Universal’s theme parks roll out facial recognition. Here’s what that looks like

New technology being used at both theme parks

Photo Validation at Universal Studios Florida (Landon McReynolds, WKMG)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Universal Orlando is changing the way you enter its theme parks.

The company is now testing out and using photo validation.

The technology is now at both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. According to the park’s website, the technology brings in a “seamless and faster” way to begin your visit to the parks. The resort began implementing the technology after renovating its entrance gates, completely removing the traditional theme park turnstiles.

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“It’s important to be aware of what your guests expect – and that’s what we try to do. Our guests expect us to create a seamless process as much as possible,” said John Sprouls, chief administration officer at Universal Orlando Resort. “Photo validation, or facial recognition, is part of that. It’s not a requirement – you can come and enjoy the park, you don’t have to do facial recognition, but it does help.”

Photo Validation at Islands of Adventure (WKMG)

Islands of Adventure began testing the technology first, and on Thursday, Universal Studios Florida received its own photo validation devices at the front gates.

I found the process to be pretty simple after trying it out for myself.

A guest simply scans their annual pass or theme park ticket and looks into a facial recognition device. Following the picture, Universal Orlando said the system will build a photo template, a unique set of data points based on facial features, which will be used to validate admission on future visits. The new system also eliminates the need to remember which finger you used to scan in at a prior date.

Photo Validation at Universal Studios Florida (WKMG)

“We have done this at our park in Beijing,” Sprouls explained. “We have facial recognition for everything – you can connect your credit card to your face and basically spend the entire day in the park. Whether it’s the express lanes, food, merchandise and entering the park without having to take anything out of your pocket. It’s been incredibly well received, so we’re hoping that happens here as well.”

The use of this technology could be a subtle hint of what’s to come at Universal’s fourth theme park, Epic Universe.

An artist concept of Epic Universe. (Image: Universal Orlando)

Speaking at a communication conference back in September, NBCUniversal’s Mark Woodbury, CEO of Universal Destinations & Experiences revealed that the new theme park will usher in the use of facial recognition and photo validation technology.

“And then technologically, it’s the most technologically advanced park we’ve ever done. And that speaks to both the attractions themselves, the next generation of robotics, drone technology, all the way through to the guest experience,” Woodbury explained. “The full guest journey is really being taken to a whole new level, and Epic is really kind of the driver of that. And that will translate across all of our properties in Orlando. It will be managed through a facial recognition, photo validation technology that will enable you to have a real -- a very frictionless experience throughout your visit to all of our properties.”

Much of what the new theme park has to offer has been kept under lock and key, but Universal said guests will venture beyond their wildest imaginations, traveling into beloved stories and through vibrant lands.

Photo Validation sign posted at Islands of Adventure (WKMG)

Universal Orlando said photo validation is optional when entering its theme parks. However, if a guest decides to opt-out, they will be required to show a photo ID. According to the park’s website, photo templates and images will be stored for no longer than six months after the expiration of the associated ticket or other entitlement.

Click here to learn more about the photo validation services.

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About the Author:

Landon joined News 6 in 2017. He grew up in Southern Illinois and graduated from Southern Illinois University with a bachelors degree in TV and digital media. When he is not at work you can catch him at one of Orlando's theme parks or the beach. Before working at News 6 he worked for stations in Miami and Fort Myers.