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Trains, drones and robotic feels: Japan deploys facial recognition across sectors

Trains, drones and robotic feels: Japan deploys facial recognition across sectors

Japanese tech is often at the forefront of innovation, and new developments in transit, medical supply delivery and personal robotics are showcasing the integration of facial biometrics.

But will it take me to Hogwarts?

A new wing of Osaka Station is being touted as the world’s most high-tech train station, following an upgrade that includes a trial of facial recognition scans for passenger entry.

Replacing a turnstile or access barrier requiring ticketed entry, the technology houses a facial scanner in a wide, open walkway, through which select passengers can enter. For now, says a report on CBS News, it is classified as experimental, and limited to use by employees of the West Japan Railway Company and certain commuter passholders.

The report does not specify whether facial biometrics will also be linked to the system’s new wayfinding platform, which will assign mobile app users a cartoon avatar — “an onion, or a bunch of grapes, for instance” — that will follow them around on the station’s digital screens.

A major focus of the redevelopment of the area known as the Umekita underground exit was the installation of sliding digital panels, to serve as barriers to suicide or accidental death on the tracks. The design also factored in improvements in foot traffic and passenger flow.

Delivery drones can carry medicine and authenticate ID with facial recognition

Prompted by the need to find quick ways to deliver medical supplies to people in disaster areas, a medical device and pharmaceutical wholesaler in Japan tested a drone delivery of temperature-sensitive medication, authenticated with a facial recognition scan.

The Mainichi reports that KSK Co. led the project in the city of Wakayama, which saw a drone provided by Tokyo-based NTT Communications Corp. fly a 20-minute delivery test flight over a distance of about 1.5 kilometres. The drone only unlocked its cargo after a biometric facial recognition scan verified the identity of an authorized official.

Last year, Japan loosened its drone laws to allow for the remote piloting of flights, beyond a user’s line of sight, over highly populated areas.

NTT Communications is the parent of NTT Docomo, which has deployed facial recognition in several applications.

Robot resembling a shocked melon can read your emotions

Any roundup of Japanese biometric technology needs a robot. Panasonic here provides Nicobo, a knit ball with limited robotic functions — but, says the Japan Times, equipped with the ability to fart (without odor), snuggle, and recognize emotional states using facial recognition. Selling for around US$450, the fuzzy, unintelligent sphere joins a growing array of companion robots targeting youth, seniors, or just the deeply lonely.

Nicobo can be reserved now, and ships in late May.

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