people eating at fast-food restaurant
Cali Group has launched a modified version of its facial-recognition system, traditionally used for automated ordering, to now take the temperatures of staff and other visitors. — Getty Images/FilippoBacci

The coronavirus pandemic has led technology provider Cali Group to launch at several businesses a modified version of its facial-recognition system — traditionally used for automated ordering and payment at restaurants — that also takes the temperatures of staff and other site visitors.

The system has been rolled out to a handful of eateries, including a bakery in Los Angeles and Cali Group’s own ghost kitchen division for deliveries. It uses Cali Group’s facial recognition application, called PopID, to identify individuals to assess if they are authorized to enter a facility, and also takes their temperature using heat-measurement technology to determine if they have a fever, one common symptom of COVID-19.

“Demand for the product is through the roof,” said Yale Goldberg, chief of staff at PopID. “Everyone is looking for ways to give their employees some peace of mind as they come back to the workplace.”

Workers simply show their face at the door, and the device scans them first to ensure they are authorized to enter, then reads their temperature to see if they are below the designated threshold. If so, they get a green light to enter. If not, a text or email is sent to the appropriate person at the company to send them home.

The system can also be attached to a door lock that opens automatically if the worker passes the facial recognition and temperature checks.

In the restaurant industry, PopID — without the temperature measurement — has been deployed at a handful of restaurant chains to allow customers to access their order histories and payment methods using facial recognition.

The technology holds the potential for businesses to streamline the ordering and payment process for customers, while also reducing the business’s costs for both labor and credit card processing.

At restaurants using PopID, customers walk up to the kiosk and press a single button to begin the transaction. A camera on the kiosk scans the customer’s face and displays their most recent orders, which speeds the ordering process. Customers can simply repeat a previous order or make modifications, then pay from a digital wallet stored in the system.

The use of a digital wallet is an important element of the software, said John Miller, chairman and CEO of Pasadena, Calif.-based Cali Group, majority owner of PopID. Cali Group also owns restaurant chain CaliBurger, which has been using the technology for nearly two years.

“It reduces a lot of the fixed costs associated with lots of small credit card transactions,” Miller said in an interview with CO— at the National Retail Federationshow in New York In January.

Everyone is looking for ways to give their employees some peace of mind as they come back to the workplace.

Yale Goldberg, chief of staff, PopID

Tapping tech

Facial recognition technology is now being used for the added purpose of taking people's temperatures amid COVID-19. Read on for more versatile technology tools that can be implemented in your business.

Meeting the ‘massive demand’ for contact-free business solutions

The “face wallet,” as Miller calls it, can be loaded with the payment methods of the consumer’s choosing, similar to the Starbucks app — but without the need to fumble with a phone in the checkout line.

After 18 months of testing at CaliBurger, the technology was adopted by a handful of other restaurant chains around the country, including Deli Time in the Chicago area, the Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ’n Biscuitschain in the Southeast and the Dairi-Osandwich chain on the East Coast.

PopID partnered with point-of-sale systems giant NEC Corp. to develop the system, which uses NEC’s biometrics algorithms, Miller said. (Biometrics is the term used to describe identification systems that use a person’s physical features, including face scans, fingerprints and iris scans.)

The technology has gained new importance amid the COVID-19 pandemic as restaurants and other venues have sought contactless payment solutions. Some businesses have accelerated their implementations of PopID as a way to minimize the handling of cash and credit cards, said Goldberg.

“There’s a massive demand for contact-free solutions,” he said. “People are really excited about face-based payments.”

Facial recognition holds the potential to gain more widespread acceptance than other biometric systems, Miller said, because consumers are accustomed to having their photos taken — consider the popularity of selfies and photo-sharing social media platforms — and using them as identification.

“It’s not as intrusive as a fingerprint or an iris scan,” he said. “Consumers are used to using their picture for everything.”

In addition, Miller said, customers appear to enjoy using facial recognition for ordering and payment, based on customer feedback measured by CaliBurger.

Deli Time has reported that customers have responded positively to its facial recognition kiosks.

“Our customers are excited because it’s so easy to use and so intuitive,” said Megan Burns, vice president of sales and marketing at Deli Time. “They are getting through our lines so much faster.”

In addition, many restaurants already use ordering kiosks and POS systems that have cameras built in, so adding the facial recognition “identity management,” as Miller calls it, is easier than adding the hardware needed for fingerprint scans.

PopID is planning to expand the technology so that it can be used by consumers ordering from home or via mobile devices, and well as in drive-through lanes, where it is already being tested. Currently it is deployed at freestanding kiosks and POS terminals.

“The idea is that you can use your face to experience the brand in the physical space, and you can use your face to experience the brand in the digital realm as well,” said Miller.

 facial recognition kiosk at cali group
At restaurants using PopID, customers walk up to a kiosk and press a single button where a camera scans the customer’s face and displays their most recent orders. — Cali Group

Envisioning widespread adoption across business sectors

Miller’s hope is that PopID becomes a widespread identity management platform across multiple industries and applications.

“The vision is that you register once, and then you use it everywhere you go,” he said.

Biometric technology is a fast-growing industry, although it faces some opposition by privacy advocates who fear it may be abused. It is thought to have tremendous potential for security systems, and is being widely tested by the banking industry as a means to deter cyber theft.

According to research from Mordor Intelligence, the market for advanced biometrics systems was valued at $16.36 billion in 2019, and is expected to reach a value of $93.88 billion by 2025.

“One of the key trends witnessed in the next generation biometrics market is a paradigm shift in business discourse toward more privacy and fewer security threats,” the report states. “The end-users are increasingly looking for integrated solutions, rather than depending on conventional methods.”

Miller said PopID technology is completely opt-in, and activated with the consent of the customer each time it is used for ordering or payment.

In addition to the PopID technology, Cali Group has also invested in other restaurant-related businesses, including ghost kitchens and kitchen robotics systems, the latter through its partnership with Miso Robotics, which it also owns.

As with the facial recognition software, Cali Group developed and tested the technology at Cali Burger before offering it for sale to other foodservice businesses. The company gained international fame for its deployment of Flippy, a burger-cooking robot that it continues to improve upon.

The PopID technology offers CaliBurger an opportunity that is considerably less capital-intensive than robotics, Miller explained.

“What’s great about this is that it’s a software platform,” he said. “With robotics, there’s a big hardware dependency. With PopID, we’re going into existing hardware.”

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