MLB Teams Reportedly Want to Use Camera Tech to Detect Maskless Fans in the Stands

Photo: Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images
Photo: Kevork Djansezian, Getty Images

Ever since Major League Baseball started its shortened season in July, the sport has been besieged by coronavirus flareups that have threatened to make it an extremely shortened season. But baseball has plowed ahead, and it appears that teams might be getting a little more ambitious with their plans for games as they explore filling the surreal empty stadiums with real live fans under the watchful eye of a mask-detecting camera system.

According to a Bloomberg report, numerous unidentified MLB teams have been in talks with Airspace Systems Inc. to deploy detection software in a camera system to recognise when fans aren’t wearing a mask in the stands. According to the report, the system could be designed to identify improperly worn masks as well.

Neither the MLB nor the Airspace Systems immediately responded to Gizmodo’s request for comment, but both organisations confirmed to Bloomberg that they are involved in discussions for such a system. And that’s about all they would say.

Airspace Systems started as a drone security system company a few years ago and Crunchbase puts its funding at $US25 ($35) million. Bloomberg says the company’s funding is actually closer to $US35 ($49) million and that Airspace has taken on several airports and the MLB as customers in recent months. Airspace founder Jaz Banga told the outlet that the company doesn’t “even know how to do” facial recognition tech and dismissed any concerns about privacy. But data is a tempting beast for a profit-driven company, so take any promises with a grain of salt.

Thus far, Airspace has promoted its systems for stadiums as a way to detect, identify, and classify drones that enter the nearby airspace. But clients reportedly started asking for the system to be converted for enforcing pandemic protocols. According to Bloomberg, Airspace’s technology wouldn’t do much more than identify “hot zones” for mask misuse.

It’s understandable why both parties wouldn’t want to say much more. The entire concept hits political faultlines on both sides of the U.S.’s polarised response to the covid-19 pandemic. The idea of bringing fans into the games when teams can’t even control the spread of the virus among their highly paid and pampered players will surely offend people who would like to slow the spread of the pandemic. And the idea of forcing fans in the stadium to wear masks will surely offend a bunch of idiots.

The fact is, the MLB may simply be taking the long view. Literally no one knows when the U.S. will be able to safely return to a more normal way of life. One of the best barometers we can use is how super-rich, well-resourced companies like Google and Apple are forecasting the future. At the moment, Apple doesn’t expect its employees to return until early 2021 and Google has set a tentative early return date of July 2021. It’s entirely possible that the MLB is just thinking about what next season might look like.

The idea of bringing fans back to the stadiums this year appears even more remote when you consider the fact that the forecast for the pandemic in the U.S. this fall is looking increasingly bleak. On Monday, Helen Branswell of STATnews published an excellent rundown of the hurdles the U.S. faces in the coming months as “indoor weather” and flu season arrive. The loss of safer outdoor spaces for people to gather and the potential of the healthcare system being overrun with patients is a tough pill to swallow. And unfortunately, we’ve taken full advantage of the benefits of summer leaving us in a situation that means the U.S. has utterly failed to contain the pandemic much less eradicate it as New Zealand did for just over 100 days. As of today, the Johns Hopkins covid tracker puts the U.S. at 5,098,452 cases, the highest case total in the world.

Look, the baseball players should probably just be skipping this season rather than travelling around spreading the plague. But the fan-less games have been pretty good so far, and I don’t really mind the oddball cutouts in the stands. Instead of setting up a political fight and inevitable physical fights among fans, just give us more of this giant baby:

Gif: Rhett Jones/Gizmodo