Grab mulls implementing facial recognition technology

The e-hailing giant says the tech will enhance safety features for both drivers and passengers, and likely to be rolled out in March


GRAB Malaysia is expected to submit a list of suggestions to the Ministry of Transport (MoT) soon — including the use of facial recognition technology to enhance safety features for drivers and passengers.

Its country head Sean Goh said the e-hailing giant has finalised the proposals which would be discussed during an upcoming meeting with Transport Minister Anthony Loke.

He also said the purpose of the meeting is, among others, to come to an agreement over the implementation of new e-hailing regulations within the first quarter of this year.

“We have been looking at different parts of the processes in order to create a smoother one. We know there are teething problems and that’s why we got together as a team, discussed and came up with a list (of suggestions) to share with the minister,” he told The Malaysian Reserve recently.

Goh said one of the main aspects the company will act on is the safety concern for both drivers and passengers as its guidelines state that a person who wants to start driving for Grab Malaysia needs to capture a photograph of their identity cards and upload it to the personnel file.

However, he said there are rising concerns among drivers who are reluctant to do so as images can be fabricated easily and will not be of any use if the verification process does not take place.

“As such, we propose the use advanced facial recognition technology. In other words, a ‘live’ selfie. This will verify there is a real live human in the car and an image is there to prove it.

“We see many outcomes with this (technology). Firstly, it will deter criminals from targeting our drivers. Secondly, if anything does occur, we will be able to provide the images to the authorities, so that they can do their job.

“It will form a better trust system for our drivers and lower friction for our users,” he said, adding that the security feature is likely to be rolled out by the end of March.

Goh, however, declined to comment on where the funding may come from, saying the use of the advanced technology is something the group had been looking at for awhile and will be developed in-house.

Last year, it was reported that Microsoft Corp had invested an undisclosed sum into Grab to collaborate on technology projects.

The report also said Grab will work with Microsoft to explore facial and image recognition, and computer vision technologies to improve its safety features.

However, Grab Malaysia could not confirm if the specific funds will be used for the development of such a technology in the country.

Meanwhile, another aspect in the proposals that may reduce the time burden for drivers is the review of vehicle inspections by Computerised Vehicle Inspection Centre (Puspakom Sdn Bhd).

Currently, any Grab-registered vehicle that is three years- old and above will need to be checked.

Goh said being a data-driven company, the e-hailing giant had looked into passenger complaints and correlated them with the age of the vehicle and ratings of its drivers.

“We noticed complaints were very flat except for those vehicles that are about 10 years old. That’s when we saw a spike in complaints. We did not see any complaint about cars aged three,” he said.

As such, Goh suggested the MoT to look into the age limit for vehicle inspection as the current ruling is unnecessary.

“Perhaps, considering vehicles aged between seven and 10 may be a smarter choice because 300,000 vehicles going in for checks will clog up the Puspakom system, even if you have very hardworking staff there.

“This is really self-defeating in our aim of helping people to earn money because they won’t be able to drive while waiting for these checks. This is what the community and our data have revealed,” Goh said.

Another pillar that Grab is working on to defray cost and smoothen process is improving the policy on the six hours of in-house training modules that drivers need to attend.

“We had a good discussion early on with the ministry and we have been given the green light. Our suggestion is that, instead of sending drivers to training institutes for six hours, why not use a digital platform, so that we can drip-feed drivers and stay contextually relevant?

“This is because upfront uploading material to drivers may be difficult to absorb, and that the key lessons that the ministry wants to impart to them may get lost,” Goh said.

He added that training can also be programmed specifically to a driver’s driving pattern and ratings.

“The training modules cost RM200 each, but it will be freeof- charge via the digital platform. We are happy to absorb the cost because this is something that can be scaled for future drivers as well,” he said.