Back in the good ol’ 90s, going to school was as much a social affair as it was for the purpose of learning. Who doesn’t remember frolicking around in uninspected corridors, or bunking PT to meet friends at that secret grove behind the playground? Ah yes, those were the days; of carefree indulgence, of innocent adventures and of a place called school which was an extension of home.
Those days are now gone. We are living in a society where words like abduction, suicide, murder and shooting, follow words like school, campus and college in the same sentence. Children are abused and taken advantage of on a daily basis and even before the ink dries on some such story, there’s another disaster waiting to be reported.
This is why when Seven year old Pradyuman Thakur of Ryan International School was found murdered inside the school's premises in September last year, ShepHertz, an omni-channel enterprise platform started thinking deeply about security and surveillance in schools.
Siddhartha Chandurkar, Founder & CEO of ShepHertz tells us - “Post the Ryan school incident, we were always discussing amongst ourselves that how can we solve this or at least reduce the risk of such incident happening again through technology. During the same time we were working on launching some new AI Services i.e. Prediction Analytics and Face Recognition. As part of this initiative one of the vertical applications we created was Visitor & Attendance Management. The problems were similar i.e. to allow access to only known people, detect intruders, attendance and visitor tracking, predict future.”
Given their experience in building meaningful products for enterprises, processing close to 115+ billion API calls, and a six year old focus on AI, Gurugram-based ShepHertz Technologies developed a software solution called SchoolProtect.
SchoolProtect is a Facial Recognition solution that can be deployed in schools using existing surveillance infrastructure. The software solution has been developed with an aim to secure and modernise Indian schools.
“The beauty of our solution is that it works with all kinds of cameras, from basic commodity webcams to advance surveillance cameras. If schools have already deployed surveillance cameras, our solution can fetch feed from them and provide face detection & recognition,” ShepHertz’ CEO Chandurkar tells Digit.
The solution works by identifying not only students, but also teachers and other operational staff, and matching their faces against a registered database of photographs. It can fetch details such as names of students or faculty members, the grade in which they study/teach, their age, the time they first entered the school premises, their last seen location and more. An alarm system alerts school authorities in case unknown or unwanted visitors are flagged by the software. It can even detect gestures and emotions in realtime using machine learning so as to alert the school in case any incident of bullying or physical violence erupts.
“ShepHertz AI Solution has been trained to understand facial expressions. It can detect the mood of the person - whether the person is happy, sad, neutral etc. The machine is fed with various sample images, which contains pictures with different emotions. Based on these, the machine learns by applying different algorithms and then does predictions,” explains Chandurkar.
Besides its security features, SchoolProtect can also support attendance management for students, teachers & staff. The company tells us that their software is accompanied by an intuitive dashboard which provides comprehensive descriptive, predictive & prescriptive analytics.
When asked whether a solution such as SchoolProtect could invade a child’s sense of independence and privacy that comes with attending school away from parental scrutiny, Chandurkar agreed, saying that “security and privacy will always have a tradeoff”. He believes that one needs to be sensitive about threat situations, and context of people as well as regions, before adopting the technology. He even dismisses facial recognition as a fool-proof solution, but feels that it has a leg up on other biometric options such as fingerprinting, especially in the context of schools.
“Each security mechanism has its own pros & cons. Fingerprint works well for attendance when same people are visiting the secured area and you need to authenticate them before entering that particular secured area. But it has various shortcomings. For instance -
In the morning everyday, it will increase queuing, especially when hundreds of students are coming in to the school and need to be in the classroom on time.
Detecting people/intruders in areas where they should not be e.g. playgrounds, bathrooms, parking lots etc. won’t be possible with fingerprint detection unless everywhere there are gates with biometric devices.
Fingerprints cannot detect behavioral aspects which AI applications can be trained to in future.”
Since the solution is fairly new, it has not been implemented in any Indian schools as of now, but ShepHertz hopes its easy business model will help get schools onboard. “SchoolProtect is charged on ‘pay as you grow’ basis i.e. SaaS model and currently there is no installation cost. Hence it does not require very high investment. The solution runs on the cloud, hence the infrastructure costs are also low and it also does not require expensive cameras. If required, SchoolProtect can be installed On-Premise or be bought as a One-Time License cost,” said Chandurkar. “One can start small e.g. By just adding facial recognition in areas outside the school one can detect intruders which itself solves a big problem and it is non intrusive since camera’s are already deployed in quite a few schools,” he added.
The use of Facial Recognition in schools has gone up considerably in the US following the recent incidents of school shootings in the country. Some image recognition systems deployed in American schools are now also able to detect weapons such as rifles and pistols through well trained object recognition modules.
While Indian schools have thankfully remained much more safer than their American counterparts with respect to gun violence, they have not been able to curb evils of bullying, sexual harassment, molestation and other forms of physical abuse. A total of 917 cases of ragging were registered in India in 2017, compared to 515 the previous year, and these do not include the incidents that go unreported every day. Each hour of each day, one student commits suicide in India, according to the latest data available from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). These dreadful numbers surely make a strong case for the use of facial and behavioural recognition systems in Indian schools... more now, than ever. Do you agree?