chinese smart school uniform
chinese smart school uniform

I am all about wearables. I love my Apple Watch for example, but that’s just the icing on the cake when it comes to what we can wear and what purpose the wearable has. Many of the wearables that we see are intended to help you track your health, so you can ultimately be better. Last night, for example, my Watch told me that I slept for about 5 and a half hours. It actually feels like I slept for more like 3 hours, but who is counting? Most wearables now can track your heart rate, how many calories you burned, how many steps you walked, your blood pressure and even how long you’ve been exercising for.

In terms of technology, it would be nice to be able to measure athletic performance or even blood glucose levels in people with diabetes. But what about other kinds of wearables? Last year, Google announced Project Jacquard, which combined clothing with technology. Google ultimately collaborated with Levi Strauss in order to create a jacket that has touch-sensitive areas which can control a smartphone.

Which is why it came as no surprise to me when I found out that schools in China are using their student’s uniform in order to track their location. Is this a good security measure, or a case of Big Brother? Yes, of course, the uniforms are “smart” in that they are chip-enabled. The goal of the technology is to encourage better attendance rates. But is this the way to do it? For example, if I really wanted to skip class and not get caught could I not give my jacket to a friend who could carry it into the class with him? Attendance would show that I’m physically in the class, but really, I’m not? No, I’m not trying to game the system, but isn’t there a way around almost any rule if you really want to break it?

The other thing to consider with these smart uniforms is how unsettling this whole idea is. Each uniform has two chips in the shoulders which are used to track when and where the students enter or exit the school, with an added dose of facial recognition software at the entrances to make sure that the right student is wearing the right outfit. Oops, there goes my whole workaround. In theory, it works but it’s the facial recognition software that will get you every single time.

I think that this is a bit much though. I’d also think that this is managing a situation based on the exception. Meaning, if 10% of students have poor attendance records, the school has decided to manage the situation based on that. Of course this can lead to a lot of discourse, but it also feels a little Big Brother like. Sure, “someone” probably knows where I am because of my cell phone, but i’m not being asked to wear a uniform that has a tracking device in it. What might be worse is that the chips can detect if a student has fallen asleep in class. Where does it end?

The uniforms are being used in 10 schools in China’s Guizhou Province region, and apparently have been in use for some time — according to Lin Zongwu, principal of No. 11 School of Renhuai, over 800 students in his school have been wearing the smart uniforms since 2016. If a student is wearing the uniform after school, school officials can definitely keep tracking them. I wonder if this will take off in other jurisdictions?