airport security facial recognition

Singapore airport to trial facial recognition to find late passengers

Image credit: reuters

Singapore’s main airport is testing facial recognition systems that it may one day use to locate late passengers or even detect how much shopping they are doing in duty-free stores.

Changi Airport has been ranked the world’s best for six years straight in a survey by air travel consultancy Skytrax and is now looking at how it can use the latest technologies to solve many problems.

Steve Lee, Changi Airport Group’s chief information officer, told Reuters that the airport’s experiments are not from a ‘big brother’ perspective but solve real problems.

“We have lots of reports of lost passengers... so one possible use case we can think of is, we need to detect and find people who are on the flight. Of course, with permission from the airlines,” said Lee.

Airports are no stranger to facial recognition technologies. Most of the major UK airports have installed automated passport gates, which eschew human border agents in favour of camera-based scanners. 

The nation state of Singapore is embracing facial recognition and other security technologies such as its ‘smart lamppost’ initiative which will see an array of sensors and cameras installed in its public lighting. 

Facial recognition technology typically allows users to match the faces of people picked up on cameras with those in databases.

Lee said they have tested technology that could allow for this and are working with various businesses, adding that they should have some capability to do this in a year’s time.

While he declined to provide names of the firms involved, France’s Idemia, previously known as OT-Morpho, has previously provided some facial recognition technology to Changi.

Changi’s newest terminal, T4, already uses facial recognition technology to offer self-service options at check-in, bag drop, immigration and boarding.

The technology means there are fewer queues and fewer visible airport or security staff.

“Today you take passport, you show your face and you show your boarding pass,” said Lee, adding it may, however, be possible to use biometrics instead.

“Then actually in future, you just take your face. You don’t need your passport,” he said.

Other technology trials underway at the airport use sensors to measure when an aircraft pushes back from the gate and when it takes off, data that has improved decision-making and shaved about 90 seconds off of aircraft taxiing time per flight during peak hours, said Lee.

Another programme uses artificial intelligence that gathers wind, weather and landing direction to learn to better predict flight arrival times.

With such technology, the airport is now able to estimate a flight’s landing time when it’s two hours away, having previously only been able to make an accurate estimate between 30 minutes to an hour ahead of landing.

Lee said this helps create efficiencies in everything from gate planning to arrival queues.

He said a smart-nation strategy begins at a country’s airport. “You can’t say you are a smart nation when you come to the airport and it’s not so smart.”

However, facial recognition technology still has some way to go, as its shortcomings are sometimes apparent.

A civil rights group claimed that a trial of the technology by police to monitor the Notting Hill Carnival last year led to incorrect matches and an erroneous arrest.

In addition, a study in February by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that commercial facial-recognition software can come with in-built racial and gender biases, failing to recognise the gender of the darkest-skinned women in approximately half of cases.

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