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Osaka Metro to introduce facial recognition ticket gates ahead of 2025 expo

An automatic ticket gate employing a face authentication system is seen at Osaka Metro's Dome-mae Chiyozaki Station in Osaka's Nishi Ward on Dec. 9, 2019. (Mainichi/Rei Kubo)

OSAKA -- Osaka Metro Co. unveiled an automatic face recognition ticket gate designed to allow passengers to pass without carrying tickets or commuter passes at a station in this western Japan city on Dec. 9.

At the Dome-mae Chiyozaki Station on the Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line in Osaka's Nishi Ward, the face recognition ticket gate -- the nation's first for train operators -- was demonstrated before the assembled media. The system allows passengers to enter and exit stations without tickets or passes if they register their head shots in advance.

The company began a demonstration experiment involving roughly 1,200 employees on Dec. 10 and aims to introduce the new system at all 133 stations, including subway stations in Osaka Prefecture, by fiscal 2024 -- in time for the world expo Osaka is hosting in 2025.

According to Osaka Metro, passengers' faces are photographed with cameras equipped at stations when they pass through ticket gates and the images are transmitted to servers at the company's headquarters. The passengers' faces are then checked against their head shots preregistered with the subway operator. If the data matches, the ticket gates are opened for passengers to pass through.

The demonstration experiment is set to continue until Sept. 30, 2020. Up to two face authentication ticket gates will be tested at Dome-mae Chiyozaki Station as well as at Daikokucho, Dobutsuen-mae and Morinomiya stations, respectively.

By using machines produced by different manufacturers, the company will compare and verify their speeds and accuracy to improve the system. While passengers wearing masks may not be recognized by the current device, the system is expected to be convenient for those using wheelchairs and baby buggies.

"We'd like to look into how to handle personal data such as head shots," said a representative of Osaka Metro.

Even after the face-based ticket gates are introduced at all stations, passengers will still be allowed to use tickets and commuter passes, according to the company.

(Japanese original by Masaki Takahashi, Osaka City News Department)

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