Swiping a smartphone or a card for metro services is a common practice in major cities in China. But in Guiyang, Guizhou province, residents have one more option－they can simply use their faces to hop on the city's subway.
"It takes no more than five seconds to scan a face and get through the metro gate," said Zhao Yandi, a Guiyang native in her 20s. "You don't even have to take off your face mask－just pulling it down to the chin would work.
"It is far more convenient to scan my face, especially when I'm back from a trip and unable to fish out my cellphone because my hands are full with heavy packages or bags," she added.
Behind the convenience is a system developed by local company, Xinjie Technology, which applies state-of-the-art tech, including facial recognition and big data, to smart transportation and payment services.
"The choice of using a QR code, metro card or just your face is an approach to a public transport system," said Lin Feng, board chairman of the company. Guiyang Urban Rail Transit Group has a majority 52 percent stake and Guiyang Public Transport Group has an 18 percent stake in Xinjie.
"Our aim is to provide diverse options for travelers," Lin noted.
"Even if you have something heavy in your hands, or your cellphone is out of power, you can still get onto subway trains or buses since you can always scan your face," he added.
After trial operation at the end of 2019, the system which integrates big data management and transaction settlement was officially put into service on Subway Line 1 in late June 2020.
Approximately 15 percent of passengers on the subway line, or some 20,000 travelers, choose to scan their faces to pass gates on a daily basis, according to Jiang Peng, vice-president of Xinjie.
Compared with the conventional method of scanning a QR code on a smartphone, it takes time for a novel approach to gain acceptance, Jiang said.
The system is being used for the city's bus rapid transit network, according to the company.
Between June 2020 and April 2021, the system has reported more than 10 million uses of the facial recognition method, Jiang added.
With a new subway line opening on April 28, more residents are expected to use the system.
Zhao said she hadn't tried out the face pass until recently, because she doesn't live around Line 1.
"My home is near a subway station on Line 2," she said. "I can commute by rail and facial recognition will definitely become my first option."
All buses in the city are planned to complete upgrades within this year and gain access to the system, which has been listed as a priority on the city government's agenda this year.
The key is to expand the city's 5G network to enable online settlement, Lin said.
Cabs and online ride-hailing services will be included in the service network in the near future, he said.
It is rare to apply facial recognition to multiple public transport services on such a large scale in China, according to the company.
The pioneering move has given the board chairman more confidence in further operations. Lin revealed his company is planning to develop a new machine that combines facial recognition, security checks, temperature checks and passing a gate into one step. The current practice consists of several procedures at the entrances to public spaces.
In addition, the facial recognition approach will contribute to building smart, safe and eco-friendly communities.
Xinjie provides an exemplary case of how big data has become an effective tool for businesses seeking new growth and how such digital transformation has benefited residents.
Amid the boom in digital services, data security is a major concern in the industry.
Home to the National Cyber Range for Big Data Security, Guiyang is developing its data security businesses.
The cyber range, owned and operated by Guizhou Shuanhui Big Data Industry Development Co, is the first of its kind in the country. It was revealed at the Guiyang Economic and Technological Development Zone in May 2018. It hosts cybersecurity attack-and-defense drills in cyberspace, with online systems at real entities as their targets.
"In this way, we hope to help locate defects in their online system and improve the cybersecurity," said Hu Yuting, an executive at the company. He added it also provides training, detection, assessment and consultancy services.
Centering on the cyber range, Guiyang is advancing the construction of the country's first demonstration zone for the big data security industry.
The White Paper on China's Digital Economy Development, released by the China Academy of Information and Communications Technology, shows Guiyang's year-on-year growth in the sector surpassed 15 percent in 2020. This has outpaced all other Chinese cities for six consecutive years.
Government data show the digital economy contributed 38.2 percent to Guiyang's GDP over the past five years.