Facial Recognition For Covid-19 Tracking In Seoul

The city of Bucheon, population 830,000, is a satellite city southwest of Seoul and part of the greater metropolitan area and the site of a pilot program to apply AI facial recognition and tracking technologies to aid Covid-19 epidemiological investigators. South Korea has been generally praised for its rapid response to coronavirus patient tracking since the beginning of the outbreak. People entering public facilities enter their information on a roster or scan a QR code. Epidemiologists tracking outbreaks use a variety of data available to them, including these logs, electronic transaction data, mobile phone location logs, CCTV footage, and interviews. But the workload can be overwhelming, and there are only a fixed number of workers with the required training available, despite efforts to hire more.

As contract tracing has been done to-date, it takes one investigator up to an hour to trace the movements of one patient. When the system goes online in January, it should be able to trace one patient in less than a minute, handling up to ten traces simultaneously. Project officials say there is no plan for this system to expand to the rest of Seoul, nor nationwide. But with the growing virus caseloads and continued difficulties hiring and training investigators, it’s not unexpected that officials will be turning to these technologies more and more to keep up with the increasing workload.

Like the controversy surrounding the recent facial recognition project at Incheon International Airport, people are becoming concerned about the privacy implications and the specter of a Big Brother government that tracks each and every move of its citizens — a valid fear, given the state of technology today. The project planners note that the data is being legally collected and its usage subject to strict rules. Korean privacy law requires consent for the collecting and storage of biometric data. But there are exceptions for situations such as disease control and prevention.

Even if all the privacy concerns are solves, we wonder just how effective these AI systems will be for tracking people wearing masks. This is not an issue unique to South Korea or even Asia. Many countries around the world are turning to such technologies (see this article from the Columbia School of Law) and are having similar struggles striking the balance between privacy and public health requirements.

[Banner image: “facial-recognition-1” by Electronic_Frontier_Foundation. Thanks for all you do!]

Seoul Introduces Self-Driving Taxis

Last year the Seoul city government passed an ordinance enabling the commercial operation of autonomous passenger-carrying vehicles. A six square kilometer region in the Seoul neighborhood of Sangam, near the 2002 World Cup Stadium, was designated as a pilot program test bed. This area encompasses 24 streets totaling 31.3 km. Two companies were selected, and the pilot program launched a few weeks ago. Currently there are three vehicles and passengers can ride for free during this introductory phase. Three more taxis and a bus will be added within this year, with plans for 50 in this region by 2026. For the time being, these cars require a standby driver who takes control in an emergency and in school zones. Check out the short news report (in English) below the break.

There was a smaller autonomous driving test program in the city of Sejong which we wrote about back in January, and [Alfred Jones] gave a keynote presentation at the 2020 Hackaday Remoticon on the challenges of designing self-driving vehicles if you want to learn more on this topic.

Continue reading “Seoul Introduces Self-Driving Taxis”

South Korea Blankets Country With Free WiFi On All Public Transit

Wrapping up a multi-year project to provide free WiFi on all public transportation, South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Information and Communications Technology (MSIT) announced that a total of 35,006 buses had been equipped nationwide.

Previously, subscriber-based WiFi had been installed on subways and in subway stations. It was provided privately by two phone carriers and free only for their subscribers. The coverage was spotty and slow, and in 2017 the government took over and implemented a better system. With this announcement, the whole public transportation system is now covered with stable and free WiFi.

We also noticed that the government has released the details of the 220,000 WiFi access points to the public. This includes the location, IP address, and RSSI data for use by people and companies wanting to develop location-based services. What is the state of free WiFi access points in your region, and does it extend to public transportation? Do you find it reliable, or do you use your data plan when out and about?

[Ian] Shops Seoul, South Korea

We don’t get a chance to shop some of the cooler electronic component shops here in the States, much less hop on a plane and experience the Hacker’s Disneyland that are the Asian markets. So we’re glad to live vicariously through Hackaday alum [Ian Lesnet’s] adventures. This time around he’s combed through Seoul, South Korea’s electronics markets. That link will take you to the roundup of about a dozen posts he published during his recent trip.

The image above is a screenshot from one of the videos he made of the experience. After the break you can watch him put on the tour-guide hat. We think he did a great job of explaining the experience and showing off what the market is like without letting the video drag on. The shops mostly offer a window display with all of the components they sell. To make a purchase you just window shop, then go inside and they will pull out an order for you from bulk bags stored on floor-to-ceiling shelves. [Ian] also makes a stop at the local Hackerspace where they show off some of their 3D printer builds.

This is not the first time he’s given us a tour like this, go check out his Akihabara trip if you missed it before. He’s also planning to meet up with the Seeed Studio folks to tour the shops in Shenzhen¬†next month. Continue reading “[Ian] Shops Seoul, South Korea”