Face to Face
company by Dave Szymanski | Tampa Bay Editor
TruMedia Technologies has taken facial recognition technology developed by homeland security in Israel and used it to help companies identify their customers.
You own a business with a digital sign and some displays but you're never really sure how many people are seeing your product or message. Or who they are.
Thanks to facial recognition technology, now you can be sure. In real time.
One company selling that technology is here on the Gulf Coast. TruMedia Technologies in Tampa sells a camera and software that tracks that information through the camera mounted behind or above the display or sign.
However, to meet privacy requirements, it does not photograph or videotape them.
The camera moves digital information to a computer, which turns it into a text report tracking the gender, age range and ethnicity of the customer. By signing onto a server, the business owner can see the customer counts in real time, on his computer.
The technology came from homeland security in Israel, where TruMedia still does its research and development. Today, the TruMedia technology is in use in stores, health clubs and other advertising venues.
TruMedia began in 2006, doing its research and development in Israel and making the camera hardware and software there. It started marketing its first prototype product in September 2007. Its first application was with digital signs.
Since then, it has been migrating, working with retailers and consumer goods companies to put it in grocery and drug stores.
While some of the TruMedia cameras look straight at customers, one, called iTally, is mounted on the ceiling and does customer counts, telling store owners total traffic past a certain point.
By getting the counts, as well as the age, gender and ethnic makeup of customers, store owners can tell not only how many people stop and look, but where to put displays based on customer traffic patterns, says George Murphy, CEO of TruMedia.
The company's initial idea was to work with large digital sign networks that were selling advertising space in health clubs, bars and malls.
When working with advertising agencies, the agencies ask about the product's audience, including the age, female-male ratio and ethnic breakdown, but there's never been a tool to allow digital sign networks to measure that.
"So we thought that this would be the logical area," says Murphy, 52, a veteran product marketing executive who joined TruMedia in January after working for Daimler Chrysler, Ford and General Electric Co.
The digital sign industry ranges from large companies to small, with networks from 15 screens to 1,500 screens and includes companies such as CBS.
When Murphy left Chrysler, he was looking at startup opportunities. A friend in the digital sign industry linked him with Moti Gura, TruMedia's founder, who has done four other startups.
"They were looking for a need in the marketplace," Murphy says. "The technology intrigued me."
So TruMedia began working on digital sign applications and the out-of-home advertising market. Some parts of that market are growing faster than the in-home advertising market. Besides signs, out-of-home would include point-of-sale areas in stores of every kind.
"We found 70% of decisions are being made at the point of sale," Murphy says. "People are spending more time out of home than in their home."
But TruMedia isn't stopping with advertising applications. It is intrigued about another segment, one connected to messages that aren't advertising driven.
Post offices, banks and large corporations need to get messages out. TruMedia sees this as a huge market because companies want to verify if anyone is looking at their digital signs or screens. For example, the human resources department of a company may post a message from the company president.
"Going forward, that will be half of our business," Murphy says. "Banks have product offerings that are so complex, they wonder if the message is clear. Is the stuff being read? There's a smarter way of doing it."
To respect the privacy of customers, TruMedia cameras do not take pictures or video.
It is called, "face toward" technology. A sensor in the camera digitizes each face. Software runs the digital information through algorithms to determine the gender, age range and ethnic breakdown. The computer then creates a data stream.
The devices, with the hardware and software, retail for less than $2,000 each. If a company had a network of 1,000 screens in coffee shops, it wouldn't need a TruMedia camera behind every screen. It may need only 20% covered for a representative sample.
Murphy's vision is to have TruMedia technology provide the measurement standard for digital signage around the world in the next 18 to 24 months.
"Once you get a standard of measurement, this will explode," Murphy says. "We've spent a lot of time working with rating agencies and trade groups, to provide a standard for measurement. For in-store measurement, that's one. We're just scratching the surface."
The advantage of a store owner signing on a computer and getting continuous data is important because he may want to see customer counts at different times of the day, in different locations and for different responses as the company changes the message. TruMedia cameras capture impressions in one-second increments.
A growing technology
As the cost of hardware such as cameras falls, the use of facial recognition technology is increasing.
At Dynamic Ventures, in Cupertino, Calif., not far from Apple Computer and Google, Itzak Ehrlich, CTO and managing director, supervises 65 engineers for the software maker. Facial or image recognition software is one of its fastest growing markets.
"People want to identify somebody," Ehrlich says. "We do some software for forensic imaging. There are different projects. It's very diverse. The commercial (non-security) portion is growing faster."
And he doesn't see that growth changing.
"There is more and more of it," Ehrlich says. "We're getting a lot of inquiries."
Part of the reason is that it is easier to do then five years ago. The price of hardware is down and cameras are more like a commodity.
In the past, hardware costs were high and software was lower. The ratio has flipped.
Many facial recognition products are for security. At Bioscript, based in Toronto, the company makes facial readers, which mount on a wall. If the reader recognizes the face of the person standing in front of it, it will unlock the company door and allow entry for that person.
• iCapture: iCapture automatically detects and tracks viewers' faces captured by high-resolution cameras. Relying on video analytics technology, iCapture generates viewing data for digital displays and screens by analyzing the faces of people watching the displays.
• iCapture Mini: iCapture Mini is an out-of-home audience measurement solution for small screens.
• iGaze: Using iGaze real-time automated audience measurement device for retailers and research firms to measure the number of viewers and their attention level for product displays.
• iTally: iTally is a smart video device that detects and counts people from overhead cameras as they enter or exit an area of interest.
Company: TruMedia Technologies
Industry: Automated real-time audience measurement systems
Key: Help companies measure how many and what kinds of people are viewing out-of-home messages and products.