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France uses AI to check whether people wear masks in public transport

France is integrating new AI tools into surveillance cameras in the Paris metro system to check whether passengers are wearing face masks.

The software, which has been used elsewhere in the country, has launched a three-month test this week at the central Chatelet-Les Halles train station in Paris Bloomberg. French startup DatakaLab, who created the program, says the goal is not to identify or punish people who do not wear masks, but to generate anonymous statistical data that will help authorities anticipate future COVID-19 outbreaks .

“We only measure this one goal,”

; said Xavier Fischer, CEO of DatakaLab The edge. “The only goal is to publish statistics on how many people wear masks every day.”

The pilot is one of several measures that cities around the world are introducing to simplify lockdown measures and enable people to return to work. Although France and the United States initially prevented citizens from wearing masks, the country has now made them compulsory for public transport. It is even considered to impose fines of € 135 for people who do not wear a mask on the subway, trains, buses or taxis.

Example of statistical data generated by the DatakaLab software.
Screenshot: DatakaLab

The introduction of AI software to monitor and possibly enforce these measures is closely monitored. The proliferation of AI-based surveillance and facial recognition software in China has worried many privacy advocates in the West, but the pandemic is an immediate threat that governments believe has priority over the threats to individual privacy.

However, DatakaLab insists that its software is data protection aware and complies with the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The company has been selling video analytics using AI technology for several years and uses this technology to generate data for shops and shopping centers about the demographics of its customers. “We never sell for security reasons,” says Fischer. “And that’s a condition in all of our sales contracts: you can’t use this data to monitor.”

The software is light enough to work on-site wherever it is installed. This means that data is never sent to the cloud or DatakaLab’s offices. Instead, the software generates statistics about how many people wear masks at 15 minute intervals.

The company has already integrated the software into buses in the French city of Cannes in the south of the country. Existing CCTV cameras in buses have been expanded to include small CPUs that process the video in real time. When the bus returns to the depot at night, it connects to Wi-Fi and sends the data to local traffic authorities. “If we say, for example, that 74 percent of the people in this place wore a mask, the mayor will understand where they need to provide more resources,” says Fischer.

Although technologies like DatakaLab are currently only being tested, they are likely to become an integral part of urban life in the near future. As countries begin to weigh the economic damage of blocking life loss from more COVID-19 infections, greater pressure will be put on measures such as mandatory masks. In western countries, where mask wear is less known, software like DatakaLab can help authorities understand whether their messages are convincing to the public.

Fischer says that while the pandemic has certainly created new use cases for AI, it does not mean that countries like France have to give up their privacy values ​​and adopt invasive surveillance software. “We respect the rules of Europe,” says Fischer. “This technology is very useful, but it can be very dangerous … [But] We have our values ​​and they are part of our company. ”

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