Will UK replace railway ticket gates with 3D face recognition?
26 July 2017 14:52 GMT

A trial is in underway in Britain that uses face recognition to authenticate railway passengers.

The trial system, which is being developed by the Bristol Robotics Lab, is being partly funded by government and the private sector.

The system uses two near-infrared lights flashing at high speed to help a camera to capture the shape, texture and orientation of a face in unprecedented detail, down to the wrinkles and the texture of the skin. This can then be checked against a database of customers.

It is being developed by the Bristol Robotics Laboratory and has secured funding from the Railway Safety and Standards Board. Unlike many existing systems, it is smart enough to recognise people who are wearing glasses and cannot be tricked by a photograph, owing to its 3D scanning capabilities. It can also tell apart identical twins.

Professor Lyndon Smith from Bristol Robotics Laboratory, told BBC Click: “You can imagine, for example, paying just by the means of presenting your face to a system rather than having to use the card and the pin, I think that’s probably the way for future payments. The face is the key to everything you want to do in the modern world.

“Everybody’s face is unique in three dimensions actually. Even identical twins are unique.”

The laboratory is currently working with US-headquartered firm Cubic Transportation Systems, who developed London’s Oyster Card system, which is an account-based service that is used on the city’s transport links.

Professor Smith said: “They’re (Cubic) interested in taking this technology forward and introducing gateless gatelines. Because, if you can imagine getting rid of gatelines at a place like Victoria Station (London), there’s a massive potential for increasing throughput.

“So we ran quite an interesting project for them which they’re now installing at their laboratory in Surrey. The aim is to move it on to the underground.”

The facial recognition technology is even smart enough to recognise people whilst they are wearing glasses. A picture of a person, due to its 3D scanning capabilities, also won’t fool the system.

In February, the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), the organisation representing train operators and Network Rail, claimed fingerprint and iris recognition would enable fares to be automatically charged marking the start of an era that could radically accelerate commute times.

The technology represents the next step from travellers being able to use smartphones’ Bluetooth signals to open station barriers, said RDG, referring to a system that will be trialled on Chiltern Railways’ route between London Marylebone and Oxford Parkway over the coming months.

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