The face of things to come in speed­ing up air­port ex­pe­ri­ence

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Business & Appointments - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Evans

HALF a cen­tury ago, bio­met­ric tech­nol­ogy was a fan­tasy of a sci-fi fu­ture, com­ing to our screens in 1968 in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

But while we’re nowhere near head­ing by space­ship to Jupiter, fa­cial recog­ni­tion (as demon­strated by the movie’s HAL 9000 com­puter), is sci­ence fact, and now poised to be an im­por­tant part of our ev­ery­day lives.

Last week, Delta Air Lines opened what’s been billed as Amer­ica’s first bio­met­ric ter­mi­nal, at At­lanta Air­port, with pas­sen­gers al­lowed to opt in — or out — of us­ing fa­cial-recog­ni­tion tech­nol­ogy to pro­ceed “from curb to gate”. While con­fined to just one ter­mi­nal, and just Delta and its air­line part­ners, the of­fer­ing is due to ex­pand to other air­ports next year.

Closer to home, Yoti, a Uk-head­quar­tered tech com­pany, has tri­alled its own of­fer­ing — which uses a pas­sen­ger’s face to pass through ID checks — at Europe’s busiest air­port, Heathrow. “The process through air­ports is quite painful for the pas­sen­ger, it’s ob­vi­ously in­ef­fi­cient for the air­ports them­selves, and it’s only go­ing to get worse over the next 15 to 20 years if we don’t do any­thing to change that,” busi­ness devel­op­ment ex­ec­u­tive Gavin Watts told the Sun­day In­de­pen­dent.

With a back­ground in avi­a­tion, firstly in the RAF as a jet-fighter nav­i­ga­tor, and more re­cently as op­er­a­tions man­ager at Gatwick Air­port, he said he’s aware of the “pain points” for pas­sen­gers. He pointed to re­cent data that fore­casts air pas­sen­ger fig­ures will nearly dou­ble by 2036, to 7.8 bil­lion.

Down­load­able on An­droid or IOS, his com­pany’s Yoti app works by cre­at­ing your ac­count on­line — with sim­ple steps in­clud­ing tak­ing a selfie, speak­ing to your phone’s video cam­era, cre­at­ing a pass­word and scan­ning your pass­port or other state iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, with the com­pany then ver­i­fy­ing you are who you say you are, af­ter which you, not Yoti, can see your per­sonal data.

His com­pany’s tech­nol­ogy is al­ready in use — it’s the of­fi­cial ID part­ner of the gov­ern­ment of Jer­sey, and used by the Chan­nel is­land’s cit­i­zens to prove their age, or iden­tity, in busi­ness or deal­ings with the state. It’s also used by Scot­land’s The Im­prove­ment Ser­vice, which works on re­vamp­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment there. The app can be used to show you’re old enough to ac­cess adult-only on­line con­tent (for ex­am­ple, from beer com­pa­nies) and used to prove ID to bounc­ers or at cinemas — “the night-time time econ­omy is one of our key ver­ti­cals”, he says. And days of teens fak­ing ID would be over, as you can’t spoof your face, but it also has the ad­van­tages of prov­ing that older-look­ing teens are el­i­gi­ble for stu­dent travel, etc.

In travel, Yoti’s work with Heathrow will see the Lon­don air­port aim­ing to go live with its first bio­met­ric ser­vices by next sum­mer, bud­get­ing £50m for the project.

While more than three-quar­ters of air­ports, and 71pc of air­lines, are look­ing at bio­met­ric tech­nol­ogy world­wide, Watts be­lieves that Yoti’s ver­sion has a com­pet­i­tive ad­van­tage — the process can be started at home on­line. “When you book your ticket you would pass the air­line on your pass­port info and your bio­met­ric pic­ture, then they is­sue a board­ing pass and those three things to­gether be­come your [QR] to­ken.”

He said the air­port process re­quires just one ID check: “You would scan your board­ing pass and the cam­era would look at your pic­ture and knows which face it’s ex­pect­ing be­cause it knows the link to that board­ing pass. Once it’s taken an im­age of your face you’ve done the iden­tity check.” From then on in, through se­cu­rity and air­craft gate, you won’t be re­quired to shows any doc­u­ments again.

Watts says the pre-planned sys­tem is faster than other tri­als which re­quire your pass­ports to be scanned at the air­port and your photo taken too. “They have re­quired you to cre­ate a to­ken on the air­port premises — it doesn’t solve the prob­lem of bot­tle­necks,” he ar­gues.

He backs up the as­ser­tion, say­ing “Heathrow have found a 25pc re­jec­tion rate” be­cause of dam­aged chips on pass­ports, or scan­ners un­able to read them cor­rectly”. And he says bio­met­ric tech­nol­ogy ties in with cam­era sys­tems in use, ad­ding that “most of the ef­fort is in data trans­fer pipe­lines” from the com­pany’s servers to Heathrow it­self. “It has ben­e­fit to air­lines be­cause you get pas­sen­ger data up­front, ben­e­fits the air­port be­cause you can see peo­ple move through the check­point and you can re­de­ploy staff to other ar­eas but, more im­por­tantly, it cre­ates a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence for the pas­sen­ger,” he says.

He said the pro­gramme, which will kick-off in earnest in Jan­uary “is de­pen­dent on air­lines join­ing the party, but a num­ber are keen to par­tic­i­pate and they know the ben­e­fits to op­er­at­ing costs and pas­sen­ger ex­pe­ri­ence”.

Delta’s bio­met­ric fa­cil­i­ties in At­lanta — now Heathrow is aim­ing to go one bet­ter with its tech

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