Face-to-Face: The Future of Facial Recognition at Events


Event planners explore the current use and future potential of facial-recognition technology at events, from trend analysis to personalised service and gamification.

Imagine walking up to a coffee barista at an event and before you have a chance to ask for your favourite Chai tea latte, the barista welcomes you by name and asks you if you would like your Chai iced or hot. Is it magic? Almost, said Cate Banfield, event solution design & strategy at BCD Meetings & Events.

“Facial-recognition technology is making it possible to personalise the event experience more than ever,” Banfield said. “Implementing technology like AI or chatbots is allowing event stakeholders to create truly personalised experiences that offer a sense of surprise and delight alongside the opportunity to streamline numerous activities and functions of an event.”

Facial-recognition software can also pick up on attendee emotions and reward them for it. Banfield gave the example of its biennial Ultimate GM Huddle conference in Orlando in 2016, where Hampton Hotels partnered with agencyEA to create a vending machine that used facial-recognition technology to dole out “smile swag.” More than 700 attendees lined up over the three-day event to display their “Hamptonality” for a chance to win fun prizes.

Zoe Cheng, business director at agency X2 Creative believes facial recognition will be increasingly used for event registration. She also pointed to how the retail sector has deployed the technology alongside body gesturing to understand people’s behaviours – this, she said, could also be potentially implemented in exhibitions and conferences.

“Managing data privacy is something that would be key but the other challenge is that the technology could be very pricey to implement; it would be vital to find a good partner with such expertise and also scale,” Cheng said.

Where is your face data stored? Who else can access it? What else will it be used for? How are these companies remaining GDPR compliant? With so many questions regarding privacy, it’s important for organisers to create opt-in opportunities that give guests a sense of control.

“Some feel that having their facial images captured at an event, or having their movements tracked, infringes on their personal right to privacy,” said Gregory Crandall, director of brand engagement at Pico+ Hong Kong. “They forget that they are being captured every day by cameras in lifts, offices, hotel lobbies, transportation systems, and in city streets.”

Crandall added that it will be a challenge for event organisations to clearly communicate what data they are capturing, what they are going to do with it, and what will happen to the data after the event. If guests’ data is used responsibly and this is communicated well, most will understand the advantages.

Agency Imagination has been experimenting with facial recognition for some time. Anton C E Christodoulou, group chief technology officer at the agency, sees the technology being most valuable at events in three key areas: Trend analysis, personalised service, and personalised content.

“Identifying the journey of an individual through an experience, in order to measure and improve the experience is extremely powerful and can be done without knowing ‘who’ they are, only that it is the same person,” he said. “Where specifically recognising a customer can be valuable is when you want to serve them better; on your stand at a car show or in a high-end retail store for example.”

Christodoulou added that one of the most interesting new areas with regards to facial recognition is creating personalised content using techniques such as volumetric capture. This involves putting your face into a famous or pre-recorded movie scene such as Neo or Agent Smith in The Matrix, or as a superhero in Deadpool.

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