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Real world face recognition and where paper beats the smartphone

Apr 01, 2014 by Martin Kuppinger

A few days ago, I was I was travelling in a local train, together with a business partner, from my office in Germany to an event in another city. We both learned a lot about the real world challenges of face recognition.

While I already had a 24-hour ticket for travelling in and around that city, the business partner needed to extend his. He used his smartphone and the app of the railway company to do so. So far, so good.

A few minutes later, a conductor arrived. Verifying my printed ticket was a matter of seconds. Verifying the online ticket turned out to be far more complex. First, the conductor needed to scan the QR code of the online ticket displayed on the smartphone of my business partner. He did so using his own smartphone. It did not work with the original size, so he requested the business partner to enlarge the QR code display. Eventually that worked.

However, there was the need for a second factor, so to speak, to ensure that this was really a personal ticket of my business partner. The conductor ‘s app provided the name of the person with the ticket plus the detail that he was using a discounted pass, valid for one year. The business partner showed the annual pass, with the number and a photo of himself printed on the front page. It turned out that this was not sufficient – the face recognition simply failed.

My business partner had to take the discount card out of his wallet, display the backside with his name printed on it, and finally the ticket was validated.

Overall, this took more than a minute. Face plus number of the discount card plus the possession of a smartphone with the valid ticket was not sufficient. In sum, this was cumbersome, inefficient, and costly for the railway company. Imagine what it costs when you need approximately 10 times as long for verifying tickets. Either you check fewer tickets or you need more conductors. Both cost, either lost revenue for more people travelling without valid tickets or higher expenses for employing more conductors.

While the face recognition issue was new to me (but funny for the two identity people travelling), the other aspect is very worthy of consideration, because it appears to be a common challenge. I have observed this in other countries as well, where it takes far longer to verify online tickets than it takes to verify paper tickets. Maybe it is sometimes worthwhile to look at the real costs, before the “modern” (but less than perfect) online solution is put into place. Not that I am against online tickets etc. – but I definitely would prefer more efficient solutions. Another post on this topic is here.


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Martin Kuppinger
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