A new device unveiled by RealNetworks on Wednesday morning uses facial recognition to replace traditional key cards for access control at office buildings.
The product, called SAFR SCAN, will sell for $1,199 per access control point, significantly less than comparable products on the market, with more advanced and reliable facial recognition, according to the Seattle-based company.
It’s the latest expansion of RealNetworks’ SAFR facial recognition and computer vision technology, which launched in 2018 as a way to help schools improve security. SAFR later expanded to additional applications such as checking whether people are wearing facemasks properly.
SAFR SCAN is the first end-to-end hardware product developed from scratch by RealNetworks, best known for its pioneering work in streaming audio and video in the early days of the web. An earlier RealNetworks Mask Check kiosk used a proprietary stand with an off-the-shelf tablet.
Although RealNetworks continues to focus primarily on software, CEO Rob Glaser said he believes in “the magic of putting hardware and software together in ways that haven’t commercially scaled before.”
The canonical examples are Apple’s Macintosh and iPhone, and while building access control isn’t exactly on the level of computers and smartphones, the underlying concept is the same, Glaser said.
“History tells us that somebody has to do it first,” Glaser said. “Someone’s got to put the hardware and software together, make it all work … and then then over time, you might see the hardware abstracted from the software, once there’s a common form factor and an understanding of what it takes to build a high volume, highly successful product.”
SAFR is part of a larger effort by RealNetworks to leverage its experience in artificial intelligence and digital media to expand its business and return to overall growth.
RealNetworks attributed a $1.3 million increase in software license revenues in 2021 to sales of its SAFR product. However, revenue declined 12% to $23.8 million in the larger Mobile Services segment. Companywide revenue fell 14% to $58.2 million, with a net loss of $22 million on the year.
Its shares have declined steadily over the past year, currently trading at 62 cents. Last month, RealNetworks received a notice from the Nasdaq Stock Market for no longer meeting the requirement for a minimum bid price of at least $1 per share. It has until Aug. 17 to exceed the threshold for at least 10 consecutive business days or risk delisting.
Glaser, a former Microsoft executive, founded the company in 1994 and invested $10 million of his own money into RealNetworks in 2020 in a public display of confidence about the company’s direction. In an interview last week, he expressed optimism about the company’s expansion of the SAFR product line.
“If it turns out that we have success in this combination of hardware and software, as we think we will, I’m sure we’ll do more,” he said.
RealNetworks says SAFR SCAN works in a variety of lighting conditions, without the problems of bias that have plagued other facial recognition systems when used by people of color.
It includes anti-spoofing technology to prevent someone from using a picture or video of a face to trick the algorithm, said Brad Donaldson, RealNetworks vice president of computer vision, conducting a live demo of the SAFR SCAN system on a recent video call from the company’s office.
The system can also detect and notify system operators about incidents of tailgating, when multiple people attempt to go through a door using one person’s authorization, a common problem with key cards.
“It’s essentially an analytics security camera at your door, doing double-duty,” Donaldson said.
Alternative forms of access, such as QR codes on smartphones, will be available to employees who don’t want their faces scanned for later recognition by the system. Addressing privacy concerns, RealNetworks says all data in the system is encrypted and processed on the device, not in the cloud.
SAFR SCAN can integrate with existing access control systems, said John Cassise, a SAFR senior director of product management, a veteran of the access control industry who joined RealNetworks to work on the product last year. In addition, he noted, the system is made entirely in the U.S., avoiding security concerns about cameras and computer vision systems manufactured in China.
There is no subscription fee on top of the base price of the product in its initial configuration, although RealNetworks plans to add subscription products in the future that provide additional features and value, Glaser said.
RealNetworks compares SAFR SCAN to products from companies including Alcatraz, StoneLock, Suprema and Tascent, with prices ranging from $3,500 to $5,000. SAFR SCAN will be available starting in May in the U.S. through resellers and systems integrators.