Face scanners in Beijing’s public toilets cause dissent among Chinese

A granny is having her face scanned by a ficial scanning machine to get the toilet paper in one of the public bathrooms of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing on March 20. Photo: Chunmei/Sino-US.com

The installation of face scanners in public toilets in a park to save the over-use of toilet paper has caused controversy in the Chinese capital recently.
 
Last week, the Temple of Heaven, a world renowned tourist site in Beijing, equipped its public restrooms with face scanners, which could help to allocate a “reasonable” amount of toilet paper to each user.
 
Six such machines were installed in three bathrooms of the park, aimed at encouraging visitors to stop over-using the free toilet paper and raising public awareness on saving public resources, an officer at the complex told sino-us.com on Monday.
 
In order to get toilet paper, visitors must remove their glasses and hat, stand in a designated area and have their faces scanned by a camera in front of them. Afterwards, they will be issued a 60-cm long piece of toilet paper by the machine fixed on the wall. While, theoretically, the whole process takes just three seconds, it may actually take longer as a user has to match his or her face to the right place required by the machine before the paper is released.
 
“It’s embarrassing to set such a machine in the park which attracts so many foreign visitors,” said a Chinese granny aged over 70, who, like thousands of Beijing elders, visits the park almost every morning. She said it is a waste of money to use such an advanced technology just to prevent people from wasting toilet paper.
 
“The problem is how to improve people’s social behavior, and it should be solved through education,” she added.
 
The face scanners also captured the attention of China’s younger generations on the online community.
 
“It is hard to believe that the face scanning technology has already been used in toilets even before it is used in the payment area”, someone said ironically on Sina Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging platform in China.
 
“It’s just so ironic that people’s behavior is now being supervised by technology. But can technology truly change people’s quality?” another one questioned the practice.
 
Although the use of face scanners sounds ridiculous to many people, it did help public restrooms to save toilet paper effectively.

One of the facial scanning machines in a public bathroom of the Temple of Heaven in Beijing Photo: Chunmei/Sino-US.com

The Temple of Heaven began to provide free toilet paper to visitors in 2007 ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. However, while the park aims to provide better public service, there are visitors taking the free toilet paper for granted and using them excessively, the officer at the temple said, adding that some even took the toilet paper back to their home.
 
The Beijing Evening News also reported earlier that some visitors could make multiple trips to the park’s toilets just to stash the paper in bags they brought along.
 
In fact, the Temple of Heaven is not the first tourist site in Beijing to use the face scanner to save toilet paper. Beijing Olympic Park introduced the face scanners in its public toilets in June 2016, according to Mr. Lei, one of the inventors of the machine.
 
The idea of using the face scanning technology in public toilets came to Lei’s team in 2014. Lei’s company is the first in Beijing to invent a machine aimed at solving the problem of over-use of public toilet paper, and it somehow came at a time when the problem was causing headaches to authorities in the parks.
 
While the cost of each machine is somewhere between 5,000 yuan-10,000 yuan (about $727- $1,452), the total amount of the toilet paper saved by using it for every two to three months could offset the cost of the machine, Lei said.
 
“There are now over 20 such machines being used in the Olympic Park and 70% of the toilet paper can be saved,” he told sino-us.com.
 
The company that Lei works for is called Tianjin Shoulian Technology, and many parks in other provinces of China, such as Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Hebei, are also contacting him for the same purpose, Lei said.
 
While there are only two parks in Beijing that use the machine, Lei said the company aims to promote the product throughout the country.
 
But the face scanning system is only a part of the temple’s efforts to raise public awareness about conserving toilet paper. Beyond that, the temple also uses broadcasting and slogans to guide the visitors, in particular elder visitors, said the officer of the Temple of Heaven.
 
“Technology is only one of the ways that we use to guide the visitors, and we will not regard technology as the most important measure to handle issues like this,” he said.
 
He also emphasized that the system is on a ten-day trial, and the visitors’ feedback and the cost of the machine will be taken into consideration when the park makes the final decision on whether to promote the system as a long-term program.
 
 “If the visitors can use the free toilet paper properly, then we don’t need such machines. After all, we don’t want to set such machines (to supervise people’s behavior),” the official said.


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