Schools face new ID systems

9th January 2009 at 00:00
State-of-the-art facial recognition software heightens security

Facial recognition software is being offered to schools to improve security and record students 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 publicly exhibit its "intelligent new face recognition software" for the first time at the BETT educational technology show at London's Olympia, which starts on Wednesday. It is also due to begin its first trial of the system at a school in the UK 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 then 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 at recognition than a human.

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

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

Mr Usher said that getting the devices to recognise children was a new challenge, as their faces changed faster than adults' as they grew, but that the machine could do it.

John Dunford, Association of School and College Leaders, said that introducing facial recognition machines to schools "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.

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