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Director, Product Management and Strategic Programmes, Global Airports, Rockwell Collins IMS

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Tony Chapman, Director, Product Management and Strategic Programmes, Global Airports, Rockwell Collins Drives Rockwell Collins ARINC airports initiatives and advises on Airport Systems Integration, Passenger Processing Systems, Baggage Reconciliation, Self Service and industry initiatives such as CUTE and CUPPS.

Next Generation Self-Service Innovations to Improve Passenger Experience Using Biometrics and Identity Management

As air travel continues to increase on a global scale, airports from all over the world are seeking innovation in self-service passenger processing solutions to improve passenger experience and streamline airport operations through identity management and biometrics.

Although it is widely recognised that complete automation, and a paperless passenger processing experience from airport arrival to take-off is still some years away, Rockwell Collins is involved in testing and research of biometrics innovation to consolidate its already successful self-service airport solutions with that goal firmly in mind.

Tony Chapman, director of strategic programs for Rockwell Collins Global Airports talks to us about Biometrics and Identity Management in the next generation of Rockwell Collins' Self-Service innovations.

Facial recognition and biometrics data challenges in the airport environment

The latest innovation in passports typically includes Common Use Identity Management specific to travellers, such as measured distances between facial features, for example. This data can be captured and verified by cameras located at strategic points within the airport, and linked to airport computer systems that hold travel documentation.

Challenges arise around the world in this process of identity management, largely due to a lack of standardization for required information. Tony Chapman, notes that ‘Everyone is looking for something more unique than facial features and adds that while the system is good, ‘you have to look up at the camera’.

There are also concerns and challenges surrounding privacy laws regarding biometrics data-sharing, which differ from country to country. 

The CLEAR approach to identity management

CLEAR, currently operational in 14 airports in the U.S. allows passengers to use dedicated security lanes to expedite passenger processing using a biometric boarding pass. Subject to advance, pre-approval, CLEAR is privately-run and works to a similar process as that operated by the TSA.

Recent testing with Alaska Airlines, using fingerprint comparison with boarding records, proved successful, and can be used in the future to replace the paper boarding pass, or the electronic boarding passes typically stored on mobile phones.

How Rockwell Collins see the future of biometrics to improve passenger experience

Rockwell Collins’ vision for the future of passenger processing takes a holistic view of the planned airport experience, from the moment of arrival after following a booking process. From this point, passenger experience will take on a completely new focus, with a self-service progression throughout the airport to the point of boarding. 

The passenger is met with a facial recognition camera at a self-service bag drop kiosk, where the passport is scanned. A comparison is made of the traveller’s features with the biometrics data stored in the document and the passenger travel documentation, such as ticket and boarding pass stored within the airline DCS. This data is automatically passed to the relevant government department or agency for security screening.

Once baggage is handled using the self-service features of the kiosk, including electronic tagging and security scanning, the passenger heads to security, where he is met with another facial recognition camera to verify the biometrics data. This process of facial recognition continues at the gate, and upon arrival at the destination airport. 

According to Chapman, this final part of the process will prove to be the most challenging, requiring the biometrics agreements and standards to be in place across the world. 

Rockwell Collins has been approaching research and development of its vision for more than 18 months, with the core idea being in place for almost a decade, following issues in the U.K. with travellers from some countries in Africa arriving as economic immigrants at the border, having destroyed travel documentation after leaving their native country. Although the trials involved manual processing, Chapman says it ‘started our thinking on how to automate this whole process’.

Other visions for automation in the marketplace include the use of mobile phones and devices containing pre-programmed biometrics data, yet this vision is open to abuse if not carefully policed within the airport environment.

There is little doubt that at some point in the future, innovation will deliver complete automation to encompass every step of the passenger experience within a framework of self-service systems using biometrics identity management. Rockwell Collins continues to improve passenger experience with self-service airport systems, such as Common Use Identity Management, airport self-service check-in and bag drop kiosks and baggage systems, used in airports around the world.


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Biometrics for Airports: 1-to-1 and 1-to-Many - which is going to be the better of the two options and why?

“The industry as a whole is waking up to the fact that Biometrics can both improve security and improve the passenger experience”

Biometrics for Airports:  1-to-1 and 1-to-Many - which is going to be the better of the two options and why?  

Tony - I would say this has become a hot topic for debate in the last 12 months or so because of the various changes and improvements that have occurred with the Biometric technology itself. The processing power required for 1-to-Many validation has increased tremendously and also the associated hardware has become ever more sophisticated and this has made 1-to-Many much more practical in terms of speed of response and accuracy than it was previously.

So for the passenger, this will be the way of the future simply because it is fast and accurate and easier because they don’t have to produce any other documentation to be validated.

When they go through security or the self-boarding gate for example, then their Biometric token (e.g. their face, iris etc) simply becomes the boarding pass so they don’t have to produce another piece of paper as well.

1-to-Many validation works by capturing an image of your face and comparing it to a larger set of images and so it “sees” you in that larger set but at what point in the process does the system record your face and do you have to go in at a different time and take a picture?

Tony - At the moment it’s based on registering at your first contact point in the airport so whether that be a check in desk, self-service kiosk or a self-service bag drop you’d be registered at that point and right there at that point it would associate your face or your Biometric token with your passport and boarding pass. There after you only need to show your face to produce the other two because the system recognizes and associates them all.

Ok so when that first initial registration happens do you only need license/passport or whatever? To confirm that it is you then you can put it away for the rest of the experience? Is that the process?

Tony - Exactly that yes so it proves that it is you and that the facial images are matched with the image on the passport which confirms it’s you, captures the rest of the passport details that are on the machine readable zone and then matches that and or stores that in conjunction to your Biometric and your boarding pass.

In terms of the technology over the past 12 months getting faster and more accurate is there a piece of that technology that has significantly improved to make everything better?

Tony - I think that it’s probably three separate components: the accuracy of the cameras themselves, the processing power of the work station equipment that processes those images plus the methodology and algorithms that are used to determine if the face has been matched. For example we are working with our suppliers and their infrared cameras and they are now using artificial intelligence to train the matching technology to recognise faces which improves speed and reliability. Using infrared means that the lighting conditions don’t affect the quality of the pictures so it’s consistent through every step of the process, irrespective of the ambient lighting around it. And those infrared cameras now have a much higher flash rate so they can take many more frames per second therefore have the chance to get a much better quality image of the face.

You said there is artificial intelligence - does that mean there is some learning that is going on so it gets better each time or how does that work?

Tony - Yes exactly that. Certainly in the UK a lot of this infrared camera technology was actually first used at building sites for access control to the site. In these circumstances finger prints were not any good because builders got very dirty or maybe even had no finger print at all because they had worn off during their work and this validates them for entry qualifications so they can they drive the high crane and things like that. As a result they have a vast library of faces that they can match and they train their engines against. As this is a known data base of faces when they do find somebody that doesn’t match they retrain the engine to acknowledge that this a valid face - it’s almost self-learning.      

So what are the safety concerns that this would bring on and what are you doing to overcome this?

Tony - Well the safety concern is if you like letting somebody through who you shouldn’t let through, so that’s the overriding concern at airside control and security gates. So the system is tuned to have zero false acceptances but knowing you will probably get a false rejection. We believe it’s better to reject somebody that you should otherwise let through rather than let somebody through that shouldn’t be let through. There will always be a need for a manual process anyway for people that cannot for whatever reason give a Biometric such as children, infants, maybe somebody is disabled and can’t look at the camera correctly so there will always be a manual process required anyway. Our preference is to reject somebody who should be accepted rather than the reverse.     

Would there ever be an issue if someone comes in and registers and then they come in on a new trip after having some sort of plastic surgery? Will people be able to change their faces?

Tony - at the moment and in the way we are using it’s not a technology issue. It is about data privacy and data retention and whether you can store a Biometric token and use it for future trips. So some airlines are asking for this for example so they can enroll their frequent flyers. It needs a common standard across the industry to make that feasible and worthwhile.

Is this an unresolved issue that we have to be aware of?

Tony - The industry is asking as a whole “can we share that Biometric”. Can we share for future use, can we share it for the inbound process to the destination airport, can we use it for someone arriving at the airport, can we use it at the departure process?  The ability to collect and retain the data is a separate activity to sharing it which is industry issue that has to be resolved and its not technology companies that can resolve that, you will need the cooperation of governments and airlines and airports to resolve that collectively.

Does Rockwell Collins have an opinion on whether it should be allowed to be shared? Or should it just be kept one use per trip?

Tony - Were very much of the view that should be shared as that’s when we all get the most benefit but it’s up to the various stakeholders and I suspect those stakeholders around the world will vary on their views of that.

So in a nutshell this streamlines the process of check in and although it’s not a perfect solution, if there was an instance where somebody was rejected then it would just default to the outdated process of manual check in?

Tony - Yes and the more you’re matching faces against the entire library the chances go up that you reject someone that should have been accepted. However at the boarding gate for example you can already reduce that chance from matching one to the population of the entire airport to one to matching the maximum number of passengers in the data base who are on that particular flight. In particular with self- boarding you know they are going to have to be on that particular flight number therefore there is no point matching against the entire data base, can restrict it to the 500/600 people you’ve got as a maximum configuration for an airbus 380 etc.

Why do we use face instead of eyes and/or fingerprints?

Tony - Because on the e-passport, every e-passport has to have a facial image in the chip.

What about using other biometrics with 1-to-Many?

Tony - Sure, for example in the Middle East where facial images are not appropriate for everybody such as females with burkas or head scarfs it might be better to have an iris recognition rather than facial recognition or iris and fingerprint token. However the reason we started with the face is that it is the only guaranteed token that’s on a passport. I know some countries use finger prints as well facial image but not every country does.

Can you see Biometrics being used in any other way in the airport?

Tony - Yes, one idea is for staff access control airside, we all have staff ID’s to pass through the airport that could biometrically be enabled with exactly the same technology. 

How much better does this actually make things? Is it a lot of work for the airlines and airports?

Tony - The industry as a whole is waking up to the fact that Biometrics can both improve security and improve the passenger experience. The work that we have done means that we can actually integrate any airline with any airport without changing any code on host systems or work station applications. So to the airline its totally transparent to them and we can implement it - I won’t say without them knowing  - but with minimal interruption as we don’t have to make any code changes to their systems or to their common use or muse station.

So cost wise this will relatively be cost effective to implant because you’re simply doing integration verses introducing totally new systems?

Tony – Yes. We will simply need to change one of our existing pieces of software and add the new pieces of software that enable the capture plus of course the hardware to do the biometric capture.

Any last thoughts?

Tony - The world is moving towards self- service “everything” and to actually facilitate the true self-service bag drop without agent involvement you do need something - to validate or to show that you’re the person you say you are - that matches your passport.

I think the implementation of the one to many is an exciting solution as far as the passengers are concerned because they don’t have to keep producing boarding passes or passports as they process through their airport journey. For example in the UK  (and I know it’s true of other airports internationally) you have to produce your boarding pass at the departure gate so the agent  can physically match your picture  to the passport to prove that it’s you.  If we can eliminate that and achieve greater security as a result it’s both easier for the passenger and easier for the airline.

Click here for Rockwell Collins' White Paper: Assessment of 1-to-Many matching in the airport departure process

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