Thumbs up for face scanner at pre-school

The facial recognition system matches guardians' faces to images saved in a database, and the front door is unlocked when their identity is verified.

Facial recognition technology is usually the preserve of border controls and security departments.

Now it is being used in a pre- school. Instead of ringing the doorbell, parents and guardians taking children to Pat's Schoolhouse in Sembawang look into a calculator-size device at the front door that scans their facial contours and matches the image to a database of authorised guardian profiles.

Once their identity is verified, the system unlocks the front door and lets them in.

"It's fast and very convenient," said Mr Richard Seow, who takes his daughter Susannah there. At his daughter's previous school, the 46-year-old had to wait up to 15 minutes for someone to answer the door.

"Having an automated system to open the door is a great idea."

Parents can register up to three guardians who are authorised to pick up their young ones.

Their faces are scanned and saved onto a database. If anyone else is to pick up the youngsters, their guardians must notify the pre-school.

Parents are still getting used to the technology but feedback has been good.

Mr Danny Wong, 38, had to figure out the correct distance to stand from the device. "But after once or twice, it's pretty instinctive," he said.

Knowledge Universe, which runs Pat's Schoolhouse and Learning Vision pre-schools, installed the technology to improve the productivity of its administrators and relieve them of the inconvenient task of answering the door.

"Now they can better focus on their tasks like processing subsidy claims, ordering materials, answering calls from parents," said the company's head of IT, Mr Alvin Yeo.

Knowledge Universe had considered using fingerprint technology but ruled it out over health concerns, while eye scanning was considered "too invasive". Facial recognition was "the most parent-friendly", Mr Yeo said.

Other pre-schools said they take precautions such as locking their compounds, installing video cameras and making sure that the children are picked up by the right person.

However, Knowledge Universe's use of facial recognition technology seems to be a novelty. By next month, it will have the $2,000 system installed in eight of its 45 pre-schools.

It could also claim a government-sponsored productivity and innovation credit, which entitles companies to a substantial tax or cash incentive for using innovative technology to increase productivity.

"Schools are going to get busier in the future," said Mr Yeo. "This is a good investment."

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