Sat, Oct 27, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Beijing expo touts armed drones, iris scanners

AFP, BEIJING

From virtual-reality (VR) police training programs to gun-toting drones and iris scanners, a public-security expo in China showed the range of increasingly high-tech tools available to the nation’s police.

The exhibition, which ran from Tuesday to yesterday in Beijing, emphasized surveillance and monitoring technology just as the Chinese Communist Party’s domestic security spending has skyrocketed.

Facial-recognition screens analyzing candid shots of conference attendees were scattered around the exhibition hall, while other vendors packed their booths with security cameras.

More innocuous applications, like smart locks for homes and big-data applications to reduce traffic congestion, also occupied large swathes of the conference.

However, the high-end devices on display highlighted the emphasis that China has put on equipping its security forces with gear of the future.

Megvii, an artificial-intelligence company backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba, demonstrated different pairs of “smart” sunglasses, which sound an alarm when they spot a suspect.

They do not come cheap — one pair costs about 20,000 yuan (US$2,900), according to an employee at Megvii’s booth.

Similar eyewear made global headlines in February when police in the central city of Zhengzhou used them to spot potential suspects in a crowded train station.

Multiple companies also showed off iris scanners, which specialize in detecting and matching unique patterns on the iris, the colored part of the eye.

“From fetal stage to adolescence to adulthood, the iris stays the same,” James Wang, marketing director at IrisKing, told reporters.

Compared with fingerprinting and facial recognition, the error rate for matching irises is also lower.

“Since iris recognition is done in vivo, it’s also very hard to fake,” Wang said.

China last year spent an estimated 1.24 trillion yuan on domestic security, a 12.4 percent increase from the year before, according to a March report by Adrian Zenz, a China security expert at Germany’s European School of Culture and Theology.

Bolstering security in China’s minority regions has been a priority, according to Zenz’s report.

In Tibet, domestic security spending rose more than 400 percent between 2007 and 2016, almost double the growth in spending across all provinces and regions for the same period.

In the northwest region of Xinjiang, where the government has used an array of surveillance equipment, the security spending spree ballooned nearly 100 percent last year, twice its spending on healthcare, Zenz said.

The expo shows how broadly technology is being applied to a variety of challenges for the nation’s public-security forces.

A Shenzhen-based tech company called ZNV is using video analysis, such as the detection of facial “micro-expressions,” to analyze emotional responses. One application is police interrogation, although the product is still in the pilot stage.

At a booth run by the First Research Institute of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security, conference attendees took turns trying a VR game meant to teach police about proper firearm usage.

One attendee waved around a fake gun in a simulated takedown of thieves who had robbed a fruit shop.

However, in the pursuit of high-tech police products, some companies seem to have got a little carried away.

For instance, drones developed by Harwar, a Shenzhen-based company, can come with a number of add-ons, including a “net gun module” that launches a net to ensnare criminals on the run.

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