The VIZTA Project: Biometric Identification for a Convenient and Secure Air Travel Experience

Guest Author by Guest Author | Nov 22, 2022
By Pedro Alves, Vice President Global Business Development Border Control and Passenger Flow Facilitation, IDEMIA

Repetitive identity checks and operational inefficiencies

When travelling at the airport, passengers interact with multiple different aviation stakeholders including airlines, airports, border controls, etc. Historically, during this process, passengers must show their passports/ID cards and tickets/boarding passes numerous times, mostly to prove that they are the lawful owners of their travel documents and that they are eligible to travel to their chosen destinations. This has always been the case, despite the various tedious processes involved, namely security screening.

Having to constantly present travel documents goes far beyond simply inconveniencing passengers. The repeated airport checks sometimes lead to long queues at each checkpoint, therefore necessitating extra security staff. This in turn reduces non-aviation sales, and increases operational costs for airports, airlines, shops, and border security services, while further burdening passengers. In addition, airport facilities may not be set up for a large number of security staff, which could result in systemic inefficiencies.

The solution: Biometric identification at each touchpoint

After the first ID check, biometric technology can make all subsequent identity checks easier and securer, as long as providers factor the following privacy safeguards into their biometric systems:

  • Undergoing biometric checks should be voluntary and alternative manual checks should always be available.
  • Benefits of using biometric checks need to outweigh any data privacy concerns.
  • A human operator should be entitled to overrule a biometric system.

Provided that the basic requirements are satisfied, biometric checks are clearly beneficial for repeated ID checks. Not only is throughput increased, but the number of staff required to verify documents is significantly decrease, allowing resources to be allocated elsewhere at the airport.

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Securing the success of biometrics

To increase operational efficiency and security whilst enhancing the passenger experience, the combination of process automation and the use of biometrics is fundamental. To enable biometrics as a regular feature at airports, it is important to factor in a number of requirements.

For passengers, a key requirement is obviously data privacy. If privacy is not properly factored in, then there is no chance that airport biometric checks will be accepted. Passengers also need solutions that are convenient and protect their health, i.e., touchless solutions. In addition, the system must be flexible and suitable for all passengers, who should be able to use it easily, without reading complex instructions. It is also expected that a security system must be fair and consistent for all passengers and that false non-identification rates must be very low.

For airports, this means that the system must be secure, efficient, seamless, and energy-efficient.

The VIZTA project: Ground-breaking re-identification technology based on face biometrics

In view of the requirements above, IDEMIA, in partnership with STMicroelectronics and the Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) has launched the VIZTA project. The project meets all the necessary privacy, performance, security, installation, ease-of-rollout and low-power-consumption requirements.

VIZTA stands for: Vision, Identification, Z-sensing Technologies and Applications. VIZTA strives to develop ground-breaking technologies in the field of optical sensors and laser sources for short- to long-range 3D-imaging and to showcase their value in key applications including automotive, security, smart buildings, mobile robotics for smart cities, and Industry 4.0. VIZTA researches multiple vision-related fields, and one key topic is facial recognition identification.

Facial recognition is ideally suited for passenger re-identification at airports because:

  • It is contactless and so it fulfils health requirements (and since the pandemic, the latest software versions recognize people wearing face masks).
  • The installation is straight forward.
  • Passengers generally accept the technology, given that many ABC gates already rely on facial recognition.

The VIZTA project sets out to develop re-identification software in a single device including a face sensor and the facial recognition engine together in the same silicon chip. As the “Z” indicates, the sensor does not only record 2D images, but also, for each pixel, the distance from the sensor to the object that corresponds to the pixel. An example of such a sensor is called a “time-of-flight” sensor.

This system comes with multiple benefits:

  • Additional fraud protection: As the sensor is 3D, attempts to impersonate another identity are effectively thwarted e.g., presenting a flat image (paper or screen) is extremely easy to detect.
  • Minimization of costs: Given that the sensor and the facial recognition engine are combined in one piece of hardware, airports can streamline installation and minimize costs.
  • No additional lighting is needed.
  • Reducing power consumption: The device’s computing power is ideal for facial recognition purposes. This saves considerable power―the combined device requires far less power than a computer plus a camera.
  • Ultra-secure hardware: The system is ultra-secure as image processing and the camera can be in the same hardware device.

The future of convenient and secure air travel

Work accomplished under the VIZTA project is paving the way for operational, easily-installed, all-in-one and very secure airport passenger re-identification systems. Passenger benefits include stress-free airport experiences with less time spent in queues. Airport benefits include gaining a better competitive advantage over other airports, all while offering a secure system with fewer errors.

Following the VIZTA project launch, some further work is still pending. The system is not yet operational at a real airport. A user experience poll will be required, which should include airport staff, passengers, and security management services. For airports and security staff, optimized workflows for the new system also need to be developed. In addition, recruitment and training of tech staff who can check (and correct as necessary) system matching results will be required. Lastly, rollout plans must be prepared.

The passenger re-identification team at VIZTA is eager to understand what airports are looking for in order to move forward with the actual rollout. VIZTA’s results of such integration capabilities should encourage the decision to design and manufacture a new image sensor and embedded algorithms to optimize potential equipment for airport applications.

Hear Pedro Alves, Vice President Global Business Development Border Control and Passenger Flow Facilitation at IDEMIA, and other industry experts speak on the ASQ 2022 Global Traveller Survey two-part webinar series:

Pedro Alves is Vice President Global Business Development Border Control and Passenger Flow Facilitation at IDEMIA.

Pedro is responsible for the global business development and structuring of IDEMIA’s offer in Border Control and Passenger Flow Facilitation. This includes border control, API-PNR and passenger facilitation.

Pedro has spent most of his professional career in business development serving border control and aviation markets.

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