Face-reading system can replace fare cards

Breezing through the fare gates at an MRT station without needing to tap your travel card could be a new way to commute in future, if a payment solution by a local electronics firm takes off.

Singapore Technologies (ST) Electronics has developed a facial recognition system that can identify commuters as they pass through the fare gates.

Fares for the train rides can be charged through a post-paid method - such as a credit card - similar to how telco subscribers get billed based on how much of the service they use.

The Advance Fare Gate system, which ST Electronics says is ready to be sold to operators and implemented, is being showcased for the first time at the Singapore International Transport Congress and Exhibition 2016. The three-day event at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre ends today.

The facial recognition payment method will require commuters to sign up for an account at a self-help terminal and have their photographs taken.

The same terminal, designed by ST Electronics, can also be used to buy tickets, top up travel cards, and allow commuters to seek help from customer service operators through video conferencing.

ST Electronics said local and overseas train operators have shown interest in the new fare-collection system, but did not name them when asked.

Mr Andrew Mak, software manager of automatic fare-collection system at ST Electronics, said its facial recognition software can process up to 60 passengers walking through the fare gates every minute, or one every second.

Mr Mak said this is quicker than the current method of tapping in and out of fare gates, where only about 40 commuters can pass through every minute.

"The process of tapping the card takes time. Different people also walk through the gates at different speeds," he added.

The new system took about one year to develop and test.

For commuters who prefer not to use the facial recognition system, the Advance Fare Gate also has radio-frequency identification capabilities. This means commuters do not need to physically place their travel cards on the gate readers, but can carry them in their bags or pockets, where they can be detected or read by the system.

Commuters said the facial recognition system would allow them to do away with the bother of carrying ez-link cards or topping them up.

Photographer Baldev Singh, 34, said: "It will be convenient, as long as the registration is one-off. I hope I won't have to keep updating my photograph in the system."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline 'Face-reading system can replace fare cards'. Print Edition | Subscribe