Say cheese! Japan railway checks staff smiles

TOKYO Thu Jul 23, 2009 10:49pm EDT

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TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Service with a smile is no longer just a catchy slogan, Japanese railway staff are now required to check their chipperness every morning.

Keihin Electric Railway has introduced a "Smile Scan" system at 14 of its railway stations, and staff are being asked to double check their grins at the door.

They sit down in front of a computer with nothing more than a webcam, log in, and the system then judges just how well they make or fake a smile.

The system also gives feedback such as "Your smile is getting better" or even just "Smile like you're happy!"

According to the railway, the system is designed to improve staff's customer response by giving them a more natural smile. Those that have been using it agree.

"Using the 'Smile Scan' system is especially useful for everyday customer interactions. It really helped me develop a natural smile," says Asami Takahashi, a 28-year-old employee and user of the system.

The technology used is an off-shoot of a larger suite of software called Okao vision developed in the 90's for digital cameras. By judging the shape of a person's eyes and mouth as well as how they change, the software can pick out everything from age to how tired a person is.

It is also in use at a truck stop in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido to check if truckers are alert enough to keep driving.

The software is also being considered for other applications, ranging from cars to product marketing. When used in a car, the software could analyze a person's facial features, judge how tired they or whether they are looking at the road, and offer the appropriate advice.

Alternatively, the software would give product marketers quantitative data as to how much people really like a product. If a person tries two types of yoghurt, the software could judge their facial features to see how much they enjoyed each one.

The software is not being sold overseas yet, partly due to the difference in how Japan and many countries in the West view surveillance technologies. (Reporting by Chris Meyers' Editing by David Fox)

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