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Alibaba testing technology for face recognition

Sep 18. 2017
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TWO UNITS under the Internet giant, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, are working in tandem to test facial recognition technology that would allow users to unlock delivery drop-boxes.

Cainiao Network Technology Co Ltd, an Alibaba-backed courier aggregator, is promoting a facial recognition application to its partner delivery firms and parcel pickup facility providers in a test run in Shanghai, the company said during a customer conference in Shanghai on Thursday.

The technology is provided by Ant Financial Services Group, Alibaba’s fintech subsidiary, which since September has enabled customers to pay by literally flashing a smile in a KFC store in Hangzhou, where Alibaba is headquartered.

An army of specially equipped kiosks have been installed across five locations in Shanghai’s financial district of Lujiazui, with cameras scanning people’s faces to verify their identities. 

The companies plan for a nationwide rollout when the pilot projects mature in the city.

In real-life application, the machine would compare a detected face with the image logged by public security authorities, said Chen Jidong, director of biometric identification technology at Ant Financial.

To use that technology, users would need to subscribe to a service embedded in the Alipay digital wallet. That service would then give the app permission to capture their personal information and confirm their identity, he noted.

The development is possible thanks to 550 million real-name users on Alipay, which they use to pay bills, settle traffic fines, manage wealth and get small loans.

“The scanning system focuses on your face, so it doesn’t matter if you change your makeup or wear a wig,” Chen said, adding that multiple tests had been conducted under various environments such as under sunlight or in the dark to ensure a smooth and consistent performance.

A demonstration video displayed during the conference suggested the whole process takes roughly five seconds, significantly shortening the conventional method of parcel retrieval by typing in text codes, which normally takes 16 seconds, the companies said.

“I would expect this investment and new process to save a substantial amount of time and ensure security,” said Zou Jianhua, CEO of Diyi Box, a parcel pickup facility provider. “Just in Shanghai, at least 10,000 parcel pickup locations will be equipped with such functionality in three years.”

Chen said that the false-acceptance rate, or the chances that the system incorrectly accepts an unauthorised user, should be below 0.001 per cent and would be further lowered to ensure bank-level security.

Shenzhen-based SF Express, a leading Chinese courier that is competing with Cainiao’s network, said it is also developing biometric-based technologies to apply to its own parcel pickup cabinets.


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