Students at a major university in Beijing are now required to scan their faces upon entering dormitory buildings, a process that may soon make security guards obsolete.
Beijing Normal University has installed 44 facial scanners on its 19 dormitory buildings, for the 18,000 students on campus.
It is the boldest move taken by a Chinese university so far to apply advanced digital technologies in campus management and has drawn attention from administrators at other universities.
The machines have been placed at all entrances to dorm buildings. Students entering the building will have to pause and look at the sensor for a few seconds. They are then required to swipe their campus ID card. If the face and card match, the machine will open the gate and say "welcome home."
The machines also come with voice recognition. Students who forget to bring their ID cards can scan their face and say the last four digits of their card number, said Yang Hailiang, general manager of Beijing Peace and Joy Technology, which produces the machines.
The system can recognize 26 Chinese dialects and has achieved an accuracy rate of 98 percent, Yang said.
Li Jinjun, dormitory service center director at Beijing Normal University, said the machines were installed primarily due to safety concerns.
Vendors will be deterred from sneaking in and out of the dorm buildings, he said. "Outsiders won't be able to follow our students into the dorms."
But there are other advantages, according to Li.
"We can now find out who does not return to the dorm or returns late," he said. "The machines will help us better monitor the students' whereabouts."
In China, the rapid development of facial recognition technology has led to its use in a number of innovative ways. Beijing's Temple of Heaven used it in toilets to deter toilet paper theft. In east China's Jinan, traffic police installed facial scanners at road intersections to catch and shame jaywalkers. Supermarkets in some big cities have been using the technology at bag deposit areas.
Beijing Normal University debuted its first facial scanners in April and expanded its use in all dorms during the summer break. Currently, 70 percent of the students have had their face recorded. A facial scan is required for new freshman students, according to the school.
"I feel much safer," said Zhao Xinyi, a physics student. "The system also relieves the security guards of their heavy burden."
"Our workload has been eased. I was so busy sometimes that I couldn't go to the toilet. But now, I don't worry that much any more," said a female guard surnamed Sun.
But some students complained that they were not being recognized after a major haircut, not to mention plastic surgery.
"Of course, there will be different opinions on this. But overall, we are satisfied," Li said.