Optic technology grants access to Anytime Dining

Beginning this fall, Mason Dining is reducing their reliance on Mason IDs, which had previously given students access to Mason’s gyms, housing and dining.

This summer, all incoming freshman with meal plans will have their eyes scanned, specifically their irises, in order to enter dining halls. According to Mark Kraner, the executive director of Campus Retail Operations, these new iris scanners are a quick, noninvasive way to identify someone, preventing anyone from using a stolen or borrowed Mason ID card for Anytime Dining.

Anytime Dining, the only meal plan offered to this fall’s incoming freshman, is a new meal plan that offers unlimited usage of Mason’s dining halls. In the future, Anytime Dining will be the only meal plan offered for all Mason students.

“…it’s a system designed to build a community in residential dining, so that students have access to the residential dining hall at any time,” said Storm Paglia, deputy secretary for Dining Services and chair of the Student Dining Committee. “It’s designed for student flexibility and designed to work with students’ busy schedules.”

According to Kraner, bringing Anytime Dining and the Iris scanners to Mason has been in the works for the past year and a half. Mason Dining evaluated both of these new ideas by looking at the success of similar programs at other east coast universities, such as University of Georgia and University of New Hampshire. Kraner said that most universities that had an Anytime Dining program abandoned the campus ID and replaced it with a noninvasive scanner. Mason chose the Iris scanner over a fingerprint or a handprint methodology.

“The light will be red and as soon as you’re 8-10 inches away, the light will go green and then you’re done,” Kraner said. “You don’t touch anything, you just look in.”

This is not a retinal scan, which requires a much closer examination, usually done with a microscope.

“The machine had a very robotic voice that told me to move backwards and move forwards quite a bit due to how it has to scan your eyes,” said freshman Caden Reiman. “It was definitely a cool experience though and will be interesting to use. [I] never have had to scan my eyes for anything before.”

Kraner said Mason Dining will not store thousands of pictures of its students’ eyes into a database.

“A number is stored. So when it takes a picture, it will identify certain points on your eye. Then it will take that and generate a number,” Kraner said.

He said that the chance that this technology would pull up a wrong number is rare. The accuracy of iris identification is more accurate than using a fingerprint because the details of an iris change only if the shape of the eye is altered.

“It’s a handless system,” Paglia said. “So there is no germ transfer or anything when coming in for food.”

Each scanner cost about $1,500.

“We have two scanners at Southside, two at Ike’s, one at Pilot House, one at the Globe, plus a couple at the card office to register people,” Kraner said. All of the funding for these scanners came from the standard Mason ID budget.

Returning students can register at any of these locations or at the Mason Card Office located at SUB 1, room 1203.