Updated 27/11: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that facial recognition would be trialled in London. This is not the case. The article has now been updated to restore accuracy.
A new system of 3D object scanners is being trialled in London as a way to check whether people have touched in with their Oyster card.
Cubic Transportation Systems, an American company with offices in London, will start testing the system next week at Cambridge Heath station in East London.
The trial uses scanners on the ceiling – which look a bit like showerheads, apparently – to track people's movements, see if they've tapped their Oyster, and give them visual "reminders" in the form of red lights and angry beeps if they haven't.
TfL say they're not storing anyone's data in the trial, and won't be making a Naughty List to send to Santa of people who haven't paid. More's the pity.
This is one of several interesting technologies being developed at Cubic, one of we could imagine replacing Oyster cards altogether in the future: face gates.
If you've ever used the e-gates at airports – the ones that blind you with 100 megawatts of light, slowly come down to your level just to emphasise how short you are, then declare that you are in fact not yourself – you'll recognise the pay-by-face system they've developed. It's officially called something even worse: 'Gateless Gatelines' (the mathematician in me wants to make that '
gateless gatelines') and works like this:
We can immediately see an issue in the system as it's presented in that video, though: the person who doesn't seem to have a valid ticket isn't stopped by some kind of automatic barrier (or a flashing red light and a loud announcement of INTRUDER ALERT like in the movies) – they go through and are stopped by a person. Which is essentially the same system we have now, and it doesn't work because a lot of people in London just do not give a crap. This was posted on the London subreddit just this morning, for instance:
"I spend about the same on my weekly travel card as I do on my weekly grocery shop. Now I resent paying a good part of my meagre income on a service which is constantly rammed and delayed, but what is really disheartening is the number of times I see assorted chavs and roadmen just waltz through the barriers, jamming them open or following people through.
In the past it seems at least they tried to be sneaky about it, but more and more they seem to just not give a shit, brazenly telling the staff to fuck off, who now rather than even say anything just shake their heads at each other most of the time. The thing that really pisses me off is how these guys don't appear to be that hard done by - I would say it's more of a grey area for homeless and so on but if you've got Beats headphones and sparkly white Nikes then you probably have more money than I do.
Now I know it's the "right" thing to do, it's technically stealing otherwise and so on, but the more I see this, the more I feel like just saying fuck it. I could live considerably better if I just commuted for free."
If the new system relies on people saying "oh, I'm deeply sorry, you are correct that I don't have a ticket and was merely trying to scam my way through" and leaving quietly, it's a waste of time. The people who don't pay are the same people who play their music out loud on the train. They give absolutely zero fucks about society and its expectations.
Still, for normal fare-paying folks, it would work pretty well. You register by getting into a 3D photobooth thing and having your head captured from every possible angle (they could at least give you the resulting file so you could make an ultra-realistic Sim, though). Then the 3D scanners at the gates compare you with people on file and when they recognise you, charge the payment to your account.
It would make going through the gates faster than having to come to an abrupt stop when the person in front of you suddenly remembers that "OMG, you have to actually pay for this" and stops for ten years to find their card. And that would be lovely.