© Picsolve
© Picsolve

Picsolve CTO Dan Maunder has reinvented the rollercoaster ride photo for the digital age with the launch of a new cloud platform that adds facial recognition to existing video and photography systems.

The new platform automatically identifies and organises multiple images produced at leisure attractions and sends it straight to visitors in their own personalised digital album, which they can purchase or share on social media.

"Previously, we would have invested quite a lot of research and development into new products, such as high-speed ride capture or video," Maunder tells CIO UK.

"If we want to take a video of someone on a rollercoaster ride and give it back to them, or we want to take some really high quality, high definition pictures of them enjoying that moment, then we'd have invested that research and development time into new camera technology and new software.

"With our business strategy of wanting to diversify in different sectors like water parks and stadiums, we needed to look at our technology in a different way. And rather than sinking lots of time into research and development for transient products that don't last that long, we decided to create our core offering around our infrastructure and our service. I like to think of our AWS microservices platform as quite API-centric and also built in a fashion that we can plug in third-party products and diversify our suite much quicker than any of our competitors could do."

The new platform can integrate with existing image capture systems, support cameras, printers, touch screens, kiosks, smartphones and websites.

Facial recognition gives consumers instant access to their photos and gives Picsolve a vast quantity of demographic information at different theme parks at the world, which they can use the data to target their products on site.

"If you're in a theme park and we spot that you're a grandparent or a child then you may not want a digital offering, whereas if we spot that you're a teenager and we know that you're of a particular demographic that uses particular rides, then we can sell you a slightly different proposition," Maunder explains.

"Perhaps you don't want something physical and want something digital only, or you want it to be made up in a certain way, with some really nice filters on top. Using all of that information that we get we can truly understand who our consumer is and then start to give them the product that they want. "

Opening up the sales window

Picsolve launched the platform in November 2017 at IAAPA Attractions Expo, the leading show for the industry. The platform has since been installed in 30 Caesar's Entertainment hotels and resorts in Las Vegas.

The data collection uses profiling technology from the Amazon Web Services' facial recognition suite, which has been cleared for use with the Information Commissioner's Office. It can also be used to pre- and post-sell photography to consumers who may have forgotten to buy a photograph at the location.

The nature of Picsolve's business means the technology is more complicated than it may first appear. When someone get off a rollercoaster, the theme park only has a 90-second window to sell the photograph to a customer who is full of adrenalin and reluctant to engage with a salesperson.

"By having all this information, we can then target those people at the right point in time," says Maunder. "We can target them before they've come into the park or after they've left the park, and we can open up a bigger buying window with a better selection of targeted products, by gleaning all the information from the photography using profiling tools.

"We contextualise all that stuff as well. We will be taking in lots of different feeds, such as weather and geopolitical feeds, so you can actually understand what's going off in certain parts of the world and certain parts of theme parks to then truly understand how you get the most value out of a consumer. And when you've got all of this rich pool of information, then you can really start to monetise your products in a different way, which is exceptional for our industry."

The Picsolve business

Picsolve was founded in 1994 in Derby. Later that year, it became the first company to put a camera on a rollercoaster 23 years ago at Avalanche Blackpool Pleasure Beach.

The company's tech is now used at 500 capture installations worldwide, including Alton Towers, Legoland,  the Kennedy Space Centre and Dubai Parks & Resorts.

Maunder joined the company in July 2017, taking charge of Picsolve's overall technology strategy and tasked with developing the team and exploring new digital products, such as an attraction map that adds all the images taken of a visitor into a map of photo points.

Picsolve today has five offices around the world and operates in 20 countries, but Derby remains home for the company and now the new CTO.

"When I joined a year ago, the majority of our engineering base was in London," says Maunder. "We decided to consolidate some of the office space and move our engineering and product development teams into our Derby office where they'd be located with the rest of the business teams, just to try and get more synergies with business products and technology to help us get projects delivered faster. That has really helped us to create our new digital platform."

International expansion

The focus on the Derby headquarters doesn't mean Picsolve is neglecting new markets abroad. Last year, the company bought Freeze Frame, an entertainment venue and digital imaging company based in New York.

The deal added 23 visitor destinations operating photo-led consumer experiences in North America to the Picsolve portfolio, including One World Observatory, Central Park Zoo, three presidential libraries and seven Macy's department stores, increasing Picsolve's US footprint by 50%.

The acquisition gave Picsolve new regional expertise and a further market segment in observatories, but when it comes to the technology, Maunder is concentrating on Picsolve's internal expertise.

"That's purely because the technology and the investment that we've got in our technology is putting us in a place where we are the number one provider for photographic and video services across parks, attractions, and other markets," says Maunder.

"While we're in the midst of our programme for the next-generation platform, I think we'll put any technology acquisition on the back burner."