Scanning for Smiles at Keihin Railway

Written by John Dodge, Contributor

The smile police have arrived to ferret out grumpy workers at the Keihin Electric Express Railway in Japan.

Scanning technology from Omron Corp. analyzes facial characteristics and rates them on a scale from 0-100 based on "eye movements, lip curves and wrinkles," according to a story in the The Maininchi Daily News. Some 530 railway employees get smile-checked every day.

Workers tear off a print-out of their image and are encouraged to cheer the hell up (my words) if they get a low score. "We aim to improve our services to make our customers smile," a railway company official was quoted as saying in the story.

I'm not sure this would go over well here. Imagine this in New York where people revel in bad moods and nastiness. Just reverse a smile scanner and you have a scowl scanner. That would work in New York. Nothing is phonier than a forced smile and niceties girded by underlying hostility. "Good day, sir. Would you like to jump off a cliff today, sir?"

Smile...or else! Credit: Keihin Electric Express Railway Co. Ltd.

Omron based in Osaka is famous for sensor-based electronics from timers for joggers to blood pressure monitors. The facial scanning system is called Okao Vision. For its part, Omron has not had much to smile about recently because FY09 revenue nosedived 17.8 per cent from the previous year.


While smile scans seem trivial, Okao Vision has a serious side and enormous potential in security applications. Indeed, Big Brother is watching.

"By visually sensing and extracting useful information from face images, OMRON aims to provide various kinds of services....[that] will match their interfaces and contents to user's capabilities, preferences, conditions, attributes, and applicability," according to the Okao Vision web page.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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