Facial Recognition: Smile to Pay the Colonel

By: | September 19th, 2017

Alibaba's Smile to Pay facial recognition system

Image courtesy Alizila on YouTube

At a KFC restaurant in China, you can pay for your meal with a smile … and a little money. In the city of Hangzhou, the enormous Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, along with their affiliate Ant Financial, is testing a facial recognition system that verifies a customer’s identity.

The “Smile to Pay” system uses a 3D camera to scan the smiling faces of customers—it only takes 1 to 2 seconds for it to recognize and identify a face. Customers who are signed up for the Alipay e-payment service can use the experimental facial recognition system. For additional security, the system asks for a cell phone number for a second verification.

This trial run is another step in connecting the online shopping world with the physical world to create a cashless, and more convenient, shopping experience. Alibaba Group uses a similar technology at its Tao Café, which is also in Hangzhou, the location of the company’s global headquarters. Customers of the cafe scan a QR code in front of the shop where a camera equipped with face recognition technology detects their identity. The information links to their Taobao accounts (Taobao is a Chinese shopping site, similar to Amazon) so they can order coffee through a voice recognition system.

Other companies are developing their own versions of this technology. Amazon sparked interest in the idea when it revealed the concept of Amazon Go stores, and Japanese-owned convenience store brands Lawson and 7-Eleven are conducting similar tests.

But the idea stretches even further: Alibaba is also working on a smart store that automatically displays items a customer might want. For example, when a customer walks into the store sweating and sore after a game of basketball, a system equipped with artificial intelligence recognizes this and the shelves offer them energy drinks or adhesive bandages.

James Ross

... is a freelance copy editor and writer, living and working in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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