Biometric scans served up with school meals

PUPILS at a Scots primary school have become the first in the world to pay for their lunches by having their palms scanned rather than by handing over cash.

Biometric technology which allows them to be identified through their hands' unique vein patterns has been introduced at Todholm Primary in Paisley.

It means no more lost dinner money - and protects the identity of pupils who are entitled to free school meals.

The system identifies children with food allergies and encourages pupils to eat a balanced diet by providing a read-out of what they choose during the week.

Those behind the scheme now want to roll it out across Scotland and say it could be used to allow pupils to get in and out of school, register their attendance and take out library books.

However, critics said it is unnecessary and a possible breach of civil liberties.

Pat Swanson, the deputy headteacher at Todholm, said the new system was much better than the previous one. "The kids are enjoying it because it's new and exciting, and easy for them to use," she said. "It means that they're not coming to school with cash in their pockets, which they often lost and which meant we then had to send letters home to parents asking them for lunch money."

Many schools already use swipe cards as a way of removing cash from their canteens.

But Grant Henderson, the contracts director with Amey, the company behind the palm scanner, said its scheme was much more reliable. "The problem is that swipe cards can get lost and that is even more likely with young children," he said.

"Under this system, the young person comes to the canteen and runs their hand across the scanner.

"A display then shows the dinner lady how much money they've got left in their account and what they've selected from the menu in the past, so they've got the option of choosing something more healthy.

"It can even tell the caterer if the young person has any allergies so they know what food they're not allowed to have."

Mr Henderson predicted that the biometric technology could be put to use in other areas of school life.

"For instance, instead of morning registration, the child would just have to have their palm scanned when they turned up," he said.

"It could also be used for security, as a way of keeping people out of the school who shouldn't be there."

But Patrick Harvie, a Green Party MSP, said that he had serious concerns about the use of biometric technology in schools.

"Any of these systems could potentially result in data being processed wrongly or falling into the wrong hands."

Groundbreaking technology mines a rich vein

THE technology involved in the palm vein scanner has been two and a half years in the making.

The only similar system is in Japan (pictured) where a small number of cash machines use a palm scanner, rather than a personal identification number (PIN) to confirm the identity of the bank card holder.

Each biometric sensor contains a small emitter, which produces near infra-red light.

The light is absorbed by the blood in the veins of the palm more readily than it is by the rest of the hand. It then produces an image of the vein pattern. The data is converted into a series of co-ordinates, which generate a numerical template unique to each child, which is stored in a database.

That information is then passed on to the school's cashless catering system, which converts the numerical information into the pupil's name.

The balance of the "account" and other details like previous choices and allergies are then highlighted.

Alan Thomson, the technical director of Yarg Biometrics, which made the palm scanner, said that it was less open to abuse than fingerprint identification.

He said: "Unlike fingerprints, the pupil can't leave an impression of their vein pattern, which means it is impossible to copy."

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