USA Today: Houston Hilton Hotel Installs Facial Recognition

October 1, 2010 | Coverage

USA Today: Travel

System Can ID Suitcases, Employees and Guests

The 1,200-room Hilton Americas-Houston - Houston's biggest hotel - has installed a cutting edge digital video system that relies on facial recognition technology. The system will let managers track employees, locate missing suitcases, recognize a VIP guest - and much, much more.

"The system will also allow us to do things we never thought about," John Alan Moore, the hotel's director of security and life, says in a Hilton press release.

The 24-story, 1,200-room Hilton is at times as busy as a tiny city, with more than 700 employees, ballrooms, meeting rooms, two restaurants, lobby bar, coffee emporium, full-service spa, health club and parking garage. The system - said to be 90% accurate in recognizing people and objects - will let the hotel track goings-on throughout the property using newfangled search functions that can track faces and objects by color and size.

Whether or not privacy rights watchdogs will approve remains a question, but the hotel is confident the system will help it bolster safety and even improve customer service.

The provider, San Francisco-based 3VR Security, is selling its product to the hospitality industry, and describes the Houston Hilton hotel's early adoption as one that "further validates 3VR's immense value not only from a security standpoint, but also in taking customer service in the hospitality industry to the next level."

Among the uses the hotel envisions for the system:

Security: For security problems that happened already, the system can find relevent surveillance footage in seconds rather than hours, which can aid in solving crimes and possibly prosecuting criminals. Hotel security could also derail potential dangers before they happen by, for instance, uploading a digital image of someone who is banned from the hotel and letting the system send an alert when the person shows up. Moore gave the example of entering an image of a homeless person who wants to sneak into the hotel; using facial recognition, the system would issue an alert if the person walked into a hotel so security so then hotel security could then escort the person out of the hotel. In serious cases, footage can be stored and e-mailed to an insurance company or local district attorney, the article says.

Track employee behavior: The hotel plans to monitor areas where employees punch the time clock, which can verify the person's identity, the article says. The hotel is also using the facial recognition system to watch for suspicious activities of employees or former employees, the story says. "If someone leaves under bad conditions, we set up alerts for that," Moore tells the publication. The hotel informs employees that video monitoring is taking place, says.

Find guests' missing items claims: The hotel says the system can aid customers who've reported an item has gone missing inside the hotel somehow. The system can locate items using its color, directional and object search capabilities. For example, if a customer's suitcase was lost, the hotel says it will be now be able to locate it almost instantly by following the luggage piece using a search based on color and object from the time it entered the hotel through to its present location, the release says. In this hotel alone, more than 7,000 items are reported missing each year.

Monitoring garage traffic: To improve traffic flow in its parking facilities, the hotel can use the system to count arriving vehicles. That can help managers determine if they need to adjust the number of valet parkers on staff on specific shifts. The system can also help when there's a car in the garage area.

Impress loyal guests: Like it when a hotel front-desk clerk greets you by name? Well, then you might like this. "Another aspect of the system that Hilton Americas-Houston feels will be useful is its ability to recognize repeat customers," the release says. Moore says that they'll tie in the system with its front-office systems to "flag our Gold Card members in order to be able to blow them away with service."

Readers: What do you think about this? Does it make you feel safer - or does it make you feel uncomfortable?

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