Smile for entry

Large Manhattan complex uses facial recognition for access control
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

NEW YORK—Many of the 4,000 residents of the historic Knickerbocker Village apartments in Manhattan have tossed out their access cards. Soon all of them will, because the only thing they’ll need to enter the 12-building, 1,600-unit complex is their face. No more keys, no more access codes.

The sheer size of the complex, dating back to the 1930s, posed a challenge to 27-year general manager Vincent Callagy. “It’s hard to know who are invited guests and who are people who should not be here. We needed a system that could track who was coming and going 24/7,” he told Security Director News.

I believe in five years from now [key fobs and hand scans] are going to be viewed as old and antiquated. [Facial recognition is the] technology of the future and where the industry and the world is going.

New York-based SecureCom Group, longtime integrator for Knickerbocker Village, set Callagy up with FST21’s SafeRise access control solution to manage and control building entry points, common areas and elevators. The system recognizes residents’ faces and includes behavior analysis, the company says. Access to parking lots is through license plate recognition.

Two of the 12 buildings are online with the system now, Callagy said, with more to come soon.

When a resident walks up to a lobby door in one of the buildings, the system determines whether it should allow entrance, verify guests or transfer them to a monitored station representative for help. “It never takes a minute, it’s about six seconds,” Callagy said. “When it recognizes you, it gives a green light and even greets you.”

The complex has a large Chinese-speaking population, being located on Monroe Street in Chinatown, and the system can welcome users in Cantonese, he said. Other languages are also available, the company says.

If a second person “tailgates,” the system picks that up and alerts guards at the central guard station. The system refers visitors to the intercom to get the entrance OK from residents. Meanwhile, the FST21 system keeps a digital log that records the time and date of visitors to the tenants.

“We have 128 surveillance cameras but even with four guards on duty, they can’t monitor them all the time,” he said. “We not sitting and monitoring every door.”

Residents have really taken to the facial recognition. “I haven’t heard one complaint yet, and the system has been in place for about seven months. Before, with our conventional card system, there were a lot of hiccups. People get irritated when they have to disrupt their daily routines to come to the office to get a new card,” Callagy said.

A key component of the system, according to FST21, is the AXIS 3367-V network camera, a 5-megapixel dome camera equipped with facial recognition analytics. At the entranceway, it provides a digital image of anyone requesting entry. Lighting is important to making sure it provides the clearest image possible, and the camera must be installed and mounted at the proper height and angle, FST21 said.

SecureCom’s owner and president, Brian McLaughlin, who has worked with Knickerbocker Village and Callagy for nearly 20 years, selected a height of about 75 inches off the ground so that cameras can recognize someone who is exceptionally tall as well as someone sitting in a wheelchair. Additionally, if someone is shorter than the camera height, they would look up and turn their face toward the camera, which casts more light on their face and enhances recognition, the company said.

“This is where access is going. This is the future,” McLaughlin said. “As far as key fobs and hand scans, I believe in five years from now those types of technologies are going to be viewed as old and antiquated. This is the technology of the future and where the industry and the world is going."

Knickerbocker Village was constructed by famed real estate developer Frederick Fillmore French in 1933 and completed in 1934. It went through a facelift in the late 1980s and now also includes the Hamilton Madison House Knickerbocker Village Senior Service Naturally Occurring Retirement Community, which offers services and activities for the buildings’ increasing elderly population.