Monday, December 6, 2021

Mad Systems: Leveraging the magic

Mad Systems’ advanced new technology creates AV++®

by Michael Oliver

The personalized guest experience

“Facial Recognition can be used to personalize and improve the guest experience by a considerable factor, with a wide range of possible applications in the world of theme parks and attractions,” says Maris Ensing, Founder and Creative Technology Consultant of the AV company Mad Systems Inc., based in Orange, California. “You can make sure that people can’t lose their kids; you can make sure that they can find their friends; you can make sure that even if the kids do wander away they can’t leave the park. The benefits extend from security to point-of-sale, to retail, to food and beverage – to everything else that you might want to involve, including the exciting creative potential to produce personalized, immersive experiences on the cutting edge of enhanced reality, while at the same time not affecting visitor’s privacy.”

We spoke with Ensing not long after Mad Systems had garnered its second United States patent in less than a year, with a third patent that was granted and published on October 26th. In its official language, the first patent (#10,484,818) “covered systems and methods for providing location information about registered users based on facial recognition.” One of the possible things that can be done based on this technology is called LookingGlass Concierge, which “uses a secure (and private) form of facial recognition to help provide better customer service, and to make the stay of visitors to theme parks, museums and visitor centers even better.”

Maris Ensing

The second patent (#10,831,817) is titled ‘Systems and Methods for Generating Targeted Media Content’ and covers “the development of personalized media delivery and personalized interactive exhibits based on recognition technologies, including facial recognition, color recognition and license plate recognition with an option for correlation of cars, their drivers and their passengers, as well as transactions relating to the use of recognition systems.” This technology will enable public spaces to deliver media and implement exhibits, advertising and interactive solutions that match the interests, language preference, ADA needs or even purchasing habits of patrons in order to tailor people’s experiences.

Ensing also indicated that exploring this technology further has led to several more patents in the works, in the US, Europe, China, Australia and the Middle East.

Your face is your calling card

To understand how facial recognition technology can provide benefits to theme parks and their guests, it’s worth a moment to consider how this technology works in other settings – for example, walkthrough venues like museums. When a guest enters such a venue, he or she may want to register at a ticket window or perhaps self-register at a conveniently placed kiosk; in fact, the guest may have already registered online in advance from home. As part of this process, the guest provides a portrait or allows the system to capture an image, which will be translated into a series of encrypted vectors (no actual picture need to be kept) and used for guest recognition as the guest moves through the venue. Other data elements can be included by the guest at this time: language preferences, specialized requirements due to hearing or vision issues, mobility issues (wheelchair bound, for example). All of these data points are stored and associated with the visitors’ encrypted equivalent of their pictures, enabling them to be recognized by the system as they proceed through the exhibits, addressed by name and have media and content delivered that are specifically tailored to the information, preferences and needs inputted in the registration process. Included in this brief description are the basics of facial recognition: capturing a facial image – or the mathematical equivalent thereof – and attaching data points to the image, such that when the recognition system captures the facial image at any point at the venue, individual media is delivered to that guest.

How might this be applied to theme parks?

One of the issues for parks, big and small, would be whether a facial recognition system can be integrated into their pre-existing technologies. The answer is yes, provided that the pre-existing systems have the flexibility and allow for the level of control that are required to accomplish the client’s goals. For example, if the client wants to be able to satisfy the language needs of a variety of guests, the system would need to have a server capable of shifting between audio tracks seamlessly while the presentation is running. As Ensing put it, “Provided the equipment is capable of providing the facilities that are required by the client, and provided that there is a command structure that allows us to activate those facilities, then we can use any system; we can integrate within an existing system and turn it into a system that is capable of being driven by recognition.”

According to Ensing, the versatility, affordability and convenience of Mad’s facial recognition system would far outperform competing, “non-facing” personalization technologies. “No badges or wristbands required, no batteries or charging systems, no need to collect and clean devices (particularly critical during the pandemic),” he says. And further, “unlike all of these other systems, you know when and for how long a visitor is actually looking at and near to an exhibit or display.” Your face is your calling card, your ticket, and the on-switch for personalized media delivery and a personalized experience.

Progressive deployment

Ensing outlined a template for gradually building up a system driven by facial recognition. For example, an operator may want to begin with a basic VIP line access function, maybe at an entry gate, a queue line or a parking lot. (Mad Systems proprietary license plate recognition technology allows for a guest to be associated with a license plate and its associated automobile.)

Another basic usage of such a system might be locating guests anywhere in the venue, such that people can easily locate family members or friends by consulting stations along the route to discover where they were last seen, for example, depending on how many cameras are deployed and where they are. (More cameras = more information.)

From here, a next step might be progressive wayfinding. Once the system knows the guest’s destination, the guest can conveniently locate that destination by way of a digital signage system driven by facial recognition. (If the guest has indicated a language preference, the digital signage will, of course, appear in that language).

Timed tickets may be added to the system next, depending on the theme park’s infrastructure – for example, the recognition system can alert the guest concerning how much time there is before a particular show begins, how long it will take the guest to arrive at the ticketed event and even warn them when they need to head there.

As a next step, retail might be integrated. By tracking guests’ purchases, the operator can follow up with related offerings. Further, guests are not burdened with carrying purchases around the park; they can retrieve them at the end of the day, the recognition system having already associated the guest with the purchases. At restaurants, guests can be automatically recognized for their reservations, or the system can recognize where people are in a given restaurant and guide other members of the party there. These conveniences have the potential to increase per-cap spending.

Mad Systems facial recognition technologies can dramatically impact the guest theme park experience. Photos courtesy of Mad Systems

Essentially, through personalized customer engagement and service, the technology promises the kinds of benefits every operator wants: longer (or shorter or even variable and controllable) dwell times, more repeat visits, increased per-cap spending, positive word-of-mouth. There are also potential savings in that fewer staff members might be required, for example, at entrance points, wayfinding locales and retail locations.

A different world

In today’s industry where operational calendars have been curtailed and budgets and staff reduced, clients need to see a clear advantage in the re-investment choices they make. So, why invest in this new technology now? In addition to the likely return on investment, there are other reasons to consider. Yes, the technology, as Ensing put it, “is available; it is proven to work very well…it is where we are developmentally,” but perhaps a more telling argument relates to where we are as a culture and where the theme park industry fits into that culture.

As Ensing points out, the world, and hence our market, has changed. While COVID-19 has accelerated a more widespread adoption of sophisticated technology, there is a fundamental change that pre-dates the pandemic: the manner in which we consume media and information. Consumers today can launch an application and tell the media providers what they will watch, listen to or play, rather than the other way around. Guests bring similar expectations with them to theme parks and attractions – they will base their leisure choices on these expectations.

Ensing’s vision evolved watching young people (his grandkids) manipulating media, and it informed and influenced his work developing Mad Systems’ facial recognition technologies and also the company’s award-winning AV system, QuickSilver®. Working with QuickSilver® “makes you think about the possibilities that the new technology was offering.” At the same time observing young consumers indicated what direction that technology would, or perhaps should, go and what its likely destination would be: personalized media delivery. This technology is not merely accepted by the young people now; it is their norm.

“They want the magic – they expect the magic. In fact, a lot of this, for them, isn’t even ‘magic’ anymore – it’s their daily reality,” says Ensing. “Given the choice, ‘I’ll take the magic, thank you very much.’”

Where will creatives take this?

According to Ensing, “Creatives and designers must begin by accepting a basic premise: our new audience is not like our parents or our grandparents…our audience has changed; they expect a lot more. It begins by accepting that personalizing experiences really matters – and that one size does not fit all. I think that is a key ingredient for understanding why you want to use this kind of technology. Even beyond speaking about language differences and age differences, the point is that people should have the option to have tailored experiences.

“Once you are at the point of realizing that one size does not fit all, and you know that you want to have different experiences for different people, you might even want to consider having different versions for the same person, especially if your venue has multiple narratives or multiple conclusions available. With this technology, all of that suddenly becomes manageable.”

AV integration and QuickSilver®

The facial recognition system developed by Mad Systems can be integrated into a variety of pre-existing systems, including Mad Systems’ own sophisticated QuickSilver® AV system. [See “Mad Systems’ Paradigm Shift,” InPark issue #75.]

QuickSilver does not require facial recognition to operate; neither does facial recognition require QuickSilver – but the two together make for a dynamic pairing of cutting-edge technology that can be utilized by theme parks, just as it continues to be by museums, visitor centers and other venues. Nevertheless, the celebrated new Crayola IDEAworks traveling exhibit that premiered at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia earlier this year relies on QuickSilver and basic RFID recognition technology; in fact, IDEAworks is seen by Ensing as something of a showcase for this unique approach to AV delivery that Mad characterizes as a “complete AV++® solution”: a blend of AV and IT with the inherent capacity to update and modify ad infinitum. Mad Systems’ oft-noted versatility is on full display here and lies at the heart of Mad Systems’ latest technological advances.

The company’s growing number of patents, its pioneering facial recognition and AV technology and its general success in multiple venues all tend to support Maris Ensing’s contention: that Mad Systems has the tools, team and ingenuity to take theme parks and attractions to a new level. “We are trying to leverage technology in a different way, to create a different way to tell stories,” says Ensing.

Call it science; call it technology; Ensing calls it “magic,” and it is difficult to disagree with him. • • •

Michael Oliver
Contributing writer Michael Oliver comes to us by way of academia, as a retired literature and philosophy professor whose teaching career lasted some 28 years. Prior to the classroom, his early training and work were in engineering, which took him from nuclear missile silos in North Dakota to the Rhine River, where he worked as a ship’s engineer. Michael brings his dual background and range of experience to write about technology and other subjects for InPark.

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