RealNetworks releases its first hardware product, a kiosk that checks for proper facemask usage

A new MaskCheck Kiosk in the lobby at RealNetworks headquarters in Seattle, demonstrated by Frederick Savoye, vice president of consumer, media and cloud. (RealNetworks Photo)

From its early days as a streaming audio pioneer to its recent expansion into facial recognition technology, RealNetworks has focused on software and services throughout its 27-year history. But the pandemic is pushing many companies to try new things, and the software mainstay is getting into hardware for the first time.

RealNetworks’ new MaskCheck Kiosk, debuting Wednesday for an introductory price of $995, promises to quickly and reliably detect whether people passing by are wearing facemasks. At a little more than 4 feet high, and a sturdy 27 pounds, the MaskCheck Kiosk uses a pre-installed iPad 8. An internal battery in the base charges when plugged in, and lasts for up to three days.

The idea is to encourage and reinforce proper facemask usage, ideally leaving it to technology to avoid what can become awkward or confrontational interactions.

“We’re not trying to make any kind of political statement here,” said RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser in a virtual demonstration of the kiosk this week. “We’re just trying to launch a product that we think will make the world a better place.”

The kiosk uses the free MaskCheck software that the Seattle-based company introduced in December for iOS and Android. RealNetworks says it heard from businesses and organizations that didn’t want the hassle of coming up with their own makeshift methods of installing or positioning tablets running MaskCheck in stores, restaurants, schools, hospitals, offices or other public settings.

The new MaskCheck Kiosk. (RealNetworks Photos)

RealNetworks says MaskCheck works in less than one second, with greater than 90% accuracy, providing visual and audio cues that let passersby know if they’re properly wearing a mask or not.

Glaser said RealNetworks chose to position the MaskCheck Kiosk at a much lower price than existing mask-detection devices, which can sell for $2,500 or more. The company is not losing money on the product, but it’s not making much, he said.

The regular price outside of the introductory promotion will be $1,195. The kiosk can be purchased online for delivery in the U.S. and Canada.

The MaskCheck software also remains available for free on its own. It’s based on RealNetworks’ SAFR technology, which is used in other scenarios for facial recognition. However, the company says the MaskCheck app doesn’t use facial recognition or seek to identify the person.

Venues can decide whether to use MaskCheck to passively collect data on mask-wearing; to offer visual reminders about properly wearing masks; or to use the app to help enforce compliance, preventing people from entering a particular space unless they’re properly wearing a mask.

RealNetworks has collaborated on MaskCheck with the COVID-19 International Research Team, a coalition of scientists coordinating COVID-19 related projects, including research that has demonstrated the efficacy of masks in slowing the spread of the virus that causes the disease.

Features of the MaskCheck Kiosk include a loop in the base for locking the kiosk with a security cable. The company notes that the pre-installed iPad can be repurposed later if the kiosk is no longer needed after the pandemic.

RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser in 2017. (GeekWire Photo / Nat Levy)

Facial recognition and artificial intelligence are growth areas for RealNetworks, with revenue from SAFR increasing 282% in the second quarter, ended June 30. Overall revenue for the company declined 8% to $14.6 million in the second quarter, with a net loss of $1.4 million.

RealNetworks’ established lines of business are consumer media licenses and subscriptions, including video codec technologies and its RealPlayer software; services and technologies for mobile carriers; and casual video games for mobile devices and computers.

Now that RealNetworks has tried its hand at hardware, does the company have additional devices in mind, perhaps in other parts of its business?

“Today, this is what we’re announcing,” Glaser said, with an entrepreneurial gleam in his eye. “We’ll see where it leads. From small acorns grow giant Redwoods sometimes, so you never know.”

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Tech Covid-19 Facial recognition Realnetworks Rob glaser