Face scanners at school gates

9th January 2009 at 00:00
Biometric system will recognise pupils as they arrive and may supersede ID cards and finger scanners

A futuristic facial recognition system is being offered to schools to improve security and recognise pupils as they buy lunches and borrow library books.

The technology goes beyond systems that British schools have already adopted for the same purpose, which have included ID cards, radio transponder chips embedded in school uniforms, finger-print scanners and iris-scanners.

Aurora, a biometric company, will exhibit its "intelligent new face recognition software" for the first time at the Bett education technology show at London's Olympia, which starts on Wednesday. It is due to begin its first trial of the system at a UK school next week.

Students can stand up to a metre away from the device, which could be attached to a wall or balanced on a desk, and have their face scanned with an invisible infra-red light.

Aurora said its systems can verify a person in 1.5 seconds, and are more accurate than a human.

The device, only 28cm high, is aimed at schools, "for ultra-fast student registration, easy cashless catering and secure access control", and could cost around Pounds 1,000.

Aurora, based in Northampton, already works with more than 100 companies in the UK and United Arab Emirates, most of which are in construction industry and need to log employees as they enter and leave work.

Patrick Usher, Aurora's technical director, said the company was displaying the prototype at Bett as a "taster" to gauge reaction from teachers. "It's very quick, so we are quite hopeful," he said.

Getting the devices to recognise children was a challenge, as their faces change faster than adults' as they grow, but the machine could do it, Mr Usher said.

He and the company's other founder previously worked on SIMS, the information management system produced by Capita. Aurora also has a swipe- card system used by at least 20 schools.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said a machine "could be a good thing if it cuts admin - although you always seem to get queues behind security devices".

Previous trials of biometric security in schools have had mixed results. Teachers complained that pupils could cheat ID attendance card systems by getting their classmates to swipe their cards for them.

The Venerable Bede School in Sunderland installed an iris-scanner in 2003, but removed it a year later because it often failed to recognise students and slowed lunch queues.

Fingerprint scanners have proven more popular. However, they have sometimes met with opposition from families, with one set of parents establishing a campaign group, "Leave Them Kids Alone" to stop the spread of the devices.

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