High-precision facial recognition technology is being tapped by Beijing’s subway operator in the city’s packed stations to spot anyone who is already in the bad books with local police, while other commuters can be spared the hassle of going through manual security checks before passing turnstiles.

This is certainly good news for the more than 12.3 million passengers who take the Beijing subway on any given day.

The system’s 394 stations, already crammed with people, are grappling with worsening congestion during peak hours as each and every passenger has to be searched for security reasons before entry.

This arrangement means that the usual pushing and shoving in subway systems in all major cities starts at station entrances and inside concourses in Beijing, well before one can get abroad a train.

Packed train platforms are a familiar sight on Beijing’s subway. Photo: Xinhua

Beijing papers report that passengers will be categorized according to their criminal records that are constantly updated by the public security ministry and then subject to different levels of checks and searches.

Once someone enters the frame of a security camera, his data will be shown immediately based on powerful facial recognition. Those with no offenses or convictions will be channeled to fast lanes and only need to pass metal detector gates to enter a station.

It has been reported that Beijing’s subway operator will build its own facial database of travelers to target fare evaders, pickpockets or those who cause a nuisance on a train.

To ensure the effectiveness of the new technology, all passengers are mandated to take off their masks before going through checks.

The trial of the new system, to be developed in partnership with the Zhejiang-based tech firm HikVision, is a bid to speed up checks to keep up with the pace of Beijing’s subway expansion and ridership growth, when by 2022 it is estimated that 17 million people will travel on Beijing’s 1,000-kilometer subway each day.

Shanghai is also trying out facial recognition technology co-developed with Alibaba in its subway network. Photo: Xinhua

Other megacities in China like Shanghai are also trying out new technology in their public transportation systems.

Station staff will be wearing augmented reality-enabled smart glasses with cameras live-streaming footage to the control center to monitor passenger flows and respond to emergencies at subway stations serving the National Exhibition and Convention Center, part of Shanghai’s preparatory work ahead of next week’s China International Import Expo, to be opened by President Xi Jinping.

Station staff will rub shoulders with passengers and surveil blackspots not covered by CCTV cameras, and the glasses they wear provide live broadcasts, while footage from a fixed camera is only from one angle.

A Chinese police officer wears a pair of facial-recognition smart glasses at Zhengzhou East Railway Station in Zhengzhou in China’s central Henan province. Photo: AFP

There have also been reports about police officers using smart glasses to identify wanted persons, fugitives and deadbeats among crowds in railway stations, at airports and even at admission gates of popular gigs in cities throughout China. Such smart glasses display digital content alongside what a wearer sees.

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