The biometrics company innovating for a post-touch world

Penryn-based TouchByte is developing face-based validation systems that remove the need for physical contact.

In just a few weeks, Covid-19 has turned technologies we took for granted into objects of fear.

Surfaces we once touched without a second thought, like cashpoints, traffic light buttons and workplace entry doors, are now high-risk zones where the virus could be lurking.

Even recent innovations, like touchscreen entry systems at GP surgeries, have been rendered all but obsolete.

In their wake, a new wave of innovation is gathering pace – one in which sensors, algorithms and biometrics remove the need to touch public surfaces. One company at the head of the wave is Penryn-based TouchByte, a developer of face recognition technologies.

Pandemic creates demand for touch-free applications

Before Covid-19, TouchByte mainly focused on the retail and hospitality sectors, where its video analytics technologies track how people move around shops and facilities. “A sort of offline Google Analytics” is how CEO Jeremy Sneller describes it, referring to the tool that many online retailers use to understand customer behaviour on their websites.  

But the pandemic and its aftermath have created an urgent demand for technologies that can help companies minimise the need for physical contact. TouchByte saw an opportunity to adapt its technologies for a post-Covid world: by enabling touch-free access to physical sites, and by adding a layer of security to video collaboration tools.

£50k grant to develop touchless access to building sites

For the first application, it’s secured a £50,000 grant from InnovateUK to develop a secure, face-based entry system for construction sites.

“A lot of construction companies today use PIN pads or fingerprint-based entry systems,” says Sneller. “But while fingerprints are a biometric that require physical touch, face is a biometric that doesn’t. So we’re adapting our existing Facentry product to be completely contactless for access to building sites.”

while fingerprints are a biometric that require physical touch, face is a biometric that doesn’t.

jeremy sneller, ceo, touchbyte

That will most likely entail working in partnership with vendors of construction-industry workforce management systems, Sneller explains. Each worker’s image will be enrolled in the system, then TouchByte’s face recognition technology will validate the person at an automatic gate or turnstile as they arrive for work.

TouchByte is developing fully contactless access to construction sites using face biometrics

A new validation layer for Microsoft Teams

For remote video collaboration, TouchByte is drawing on its existing partnership with Microsoft to develop a face-based security layer for Microsoft’s Teams tool.

“It’s about ensuring that the person at each end of the videoconference is the right person,” says Sneller. “In a doctor-patient call, each person needs to be sure they’re talking to the right person. With remote schooling, parents need to know the person their child is talking to is actually their teacher.”

TouchByte is enabling this in Microsoft Teams by comparing the face of the person entering the video call with a previously-enrolled image of their face. If they don’t match, the person won’t be admitted to the call.

Sneller says that while vendors like IBM are right to re-think the sale of face recognition for law enforcement, he believes opt-in face recognition will see widespread uptake as more people and companies seek touch-free operations.

“There are a lot of applications of face recognition that will make our lives easier and streamline processes,” he says. “And that’s the bit we’re focusing on.”

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