As construction sites strive to keep their workforce as safe as possible during the Coronavirus outbreak, project managers must be careful not to get swept away with expensive technology that isn’t fit-for-purpose in the rush to open.
FACIAL AND IRIS RECOGNITION AUTHENTICATION FOR SITE ACCESS
Here at Human Recognition Systems, we’re experts in biometrics. We’ve deployed some of the largest examples of facial recognition at Gatwick and Heathrow Airports, plus facial and iris recognition on projects for the United Nations and the 2012 Olympics. Our MSite product has seen us build a leading reputation in the construction sector for site access control and digital workforce management systems.
We are seeing a plethora of products flooding the market, bamboozling our customers and we felt it was time that we share our expertise so you can make better informed choices.
We also want to explain why, with our experience, we have steered clear of facial recognition and iris recognition for site entry. We are instead pursuing an alternative solution that is not only fit-for-purpose, but will also bring new opportunities to improve safety and productivity on sites long into the future.
Just to reiterate, our company, Human Recognition Systems has deployed the largest industrially-applied facial and iris recognition solutions in the UK, fact. This hands on experience has given us real insight into the practicalities of rolling out iris or face recognition to construction sites.
The top three reasons for not deploying Facial Recognition and Iris Recognition at Construction sites are:
- Performance: Companies will throw statistics at you such as “99.9% Accurate”, but what they fail to tell you is that this is after a successful capture of the biometric. A construction worker wants to nonchalantly walk up to the biometric device, present themselves and walk on; for different reasons due to the nature of each, iris recognition results in a significant number or retakes for some and facial recognition can be problematic, especially when facial-wear are present such as masks. But the key challenge is light. These systems are deployed outdoors and our experience tells us that even when optimised, as the system is exposed to the seasonal lighting changes through the year, the performance drops off dramatically, even failing completely in some instances.
- Ease of Use: Facial recognition isn’t too bad to be fair, but it is highly dependent on the strength of the algorithm (the vendor code that matches faces) and the power of the device itself. Systems are improving, but glasses and facemasks create user issues. Iris recognition on the other hand requires a bit of “bobbing and weaving” on the part of the user in order to get a good capture. Throw the lighting issues raised earlier into the mix and these usability issues become exaggerated.
- Cost: And this is the killer. High-quality, strong capture facial and iris systems are expensive. Whilst there is an urgent need today to introduce contactless solutions, the long-term commercial impact of introducing these systems will be crippling. For example, it is possible to obtain “auto-focus” iris capture systems, the likes we have deployed at Airports around the world, but they cost £15,000 per unit! When you think you require two per entrance for access and egress, it is cost-prohibitive.
So to summarise, these solutions have not been adapted to meet the needs of rugged, externally deployed environments, the seamless usage requirements of the workers or the price point necessary to make it viable.
THERMAL IMAGING TO ‘HEALTH CHECK’ THE WORKFORCE
On thermal imaging, Neil Norman, CEO at Human Recognition Systems says:
“I keep hearing of companies promoting – and customers requesting – thermal imaging cameras as an effective means of detecting Coronavirus. I believe this is offering false hope, and here is why:
- Not all carriers of the virus have a temperature and in fact, many have mild symptoms.
- Skin temperature is different to internal body temperature – have you ever been to the Doctor and had a thermometer held to your skin?
- There are many other causes of high temperature.
- Current evidence suggests that you are infectious one to three days before any symptoms show.
- The World Health Organisation states “Temperature screening alone may not be very effective”.
- Fever detection systems are built exclusively for indoor use.
Social distancing and continual hygiene is the answer in the workplace, including on construction sites, and it is crucial that employers and employees remain vigilant about this. The biggest concern is that thermal imaging cameras may lead to a false sense of security on sites and result in the workforce relaxing its approach to these two crucial measures that are proven to reduce the spread of Coronavirus, while failing to detect a carrier entering the site.”
An additional issue with using this technology in construction is that most thermal imaging products read temperature at the forehead or tear ducts, which can be problematic in environments where PPE such as hard hats and goggles are compulsory.
For more information on thermal imaging technology and coronavirus, take a look at this article on the BBC website.
WEARABLE TECH FOR SOCIAL DISTANCING
Wearable tech has been available in the market for some time now and has met the needs of some very specific niche problem area e.g. warning people when they are approaching or entering hazardous areas, such as lifting zones, or for location-tracking, perhaps for Tunnel construction for example where the workforce is dispersed. And it is fair to say that it could have application for the specific purposes of Social Distancing. BUT it is imperative to understand what these devices can and cannot do:
- Proximity Accuracy: there are a variety of methods used for these devices from Bluetooth triangulation with Beacons installed, Ultra-Wide Bandwidth devices or good old-fashioned GPS. Bottom line is that they all include a margin of error, but none can provide the perfect distance estimates. To varying degrees, they simply tell you that you have been in the proximity of someone else but cannot tell you the point at which you crossed the 2m exclusion zone of someone else.
- No Real-time Data: these devices are not connected. They simply do 2 things: buzz if they detect another device and log that device’s ID. There is no real-time picture to alert Supervisors to.
- Charging & Synching: and this is the pain in the rear bit: you need to collect all the devices at the end of the day, recharge them all, synchronise the data and re-issue them again. You only get the complete picture from the data once all devices have been collected and synchronised, so if someone goes home with their device, you have an incomplete data picture.
- Cost: for this type of system to work, every worker, sub-contractor and visitor will have to be issued with a device. Once you add up the device, chargers, software and replacements through the year, that equates to £80 to £120 per person dependent on what system you are looking at. So, for an average-sized Contractor overseeing projects employing say 15,000 workers, that is an initial outlay of £1.5m plus the system management overhead, which is a lot for a point solution with limited benefit and a lack of realtime data.
When the pandemic hit, we knew that we needed to come up with a fresh approach to safely getting our Customer’s sites open and operational and that we needed to go back to the drawing board. We considered all of the technologies above, all of which we have either deployed or had in our labs, and we disregarded them for the reasons we set out. So we went down a different path.
We thought hold on, almost everyone onsite has a smartphone which they unlock with their face or finger, and they’re using it to buy groceries or board a plane, why can’t we use that? So we built the MSite Workforce App in record time.
By putting the power of MSite into the hands of the worker, they can:
- Contactlessly access site using the biometric security on their phone
- Receive Proximity alerts or notify Supervisors where there may be proximity issues onsite
- Be notified using our Smart Notifier (TM) of anything they should know that may affect their safety or work.