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.

Seeking security – How biometrics fit into airports of today and tomorrow

In a world that is being forced to up the ante when it comes to security measures, one of the best solutions might be right under our noses: biometrics. As they relate to travel, biometrics offer the capability to create an experience that is both safe and seamless, kicking off everyone’s adventure on the right foot.

Just imagine how that airport experience might work: You enter the airport and walk up to the self-service baggage kiosk where your passport is scanned, followed by scan from a facial recognition camera that compares it to the biometric data on your passport and your travel documents, confirming your identity.

You deposit your bag and head to security where, once again, your face is used to confirm you are who you say you are and you’re waved through. At the gate and even at the destination airport, you move through the airport quickly and easily, while the airport maintains the utmost security.

This exemplifies the massive potential of biometrics in a travel setting. Your face (it could just as easily be your fingerprint, iris, earlobe, etc.) has become your biometric token, eliminating the documents – think passport and driver’s license – traditionally used to verify your identity.

While this experience has not yet arrived for all travelers, the use of biometrics to improve security, as well as the passenger experience, is gaining ground at airports around the world – and for good reason.

The Benefits of Biometrics
Globally, there are a number of airports/airlines, including well-known trials at Heathrow T5, Delta Air Lines, JetBlue Airways and more, that are conducting biometric trials, and security is one of the key reasons.

Thanks to our smartphones (which commonly use fingerprints – and now facial scans – to unlock our device) as well as other applications, biometrics has become ubiquitous. As consumers have become increasingly familiar and comfortable with the general concept, the potential for biometric identification is easily applied to other uses and areas.

Using biometrics today as part of the airport screening process provides the opportunity to, at the very least, be as effective as (but more likely more effective than) current manual screening processes. Why? Biometrics provides more consistent results; after 8 or 80 hours, the technology does not suffer from fatigue (the way a person might) and will screen exactly the same way.

Additionally, new technological innovations and standards are becoming more commonplace at airports – and are providing increasingly accurate results. The accuracy of the cameras used, the processing power of the equipment, as well as the methodology and algorithms are all improving.

Technologies that measure the distances between facial features, for example, can capture data that is verified by cameras located at strategic points within the airport and linked to airport computer systems that hold travel documentation.

The use of infrared cameras, which are less prone to variable lighting conditions, is increasing. With these cameras, the ambient lighting does not distort the image captured, which, with windows everywhere, is a common problem at airports. And those infrared cameras now have a much higher flash rate so they can take many more frames per second – meaning they have the chance to get a much better quality image of the face.

But wait, there’s more. Companies like Rockwell Collins are already working to incorporate Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies to improve the process even further. For example, rather than trying to map a face into a series of geometric points, Rockwell Collins is using artificial intelligence to recognize a face and say it’s the same face based on a self-learning AI algorithm.

Applying the Technology
Regardless of the technology, the move towards biometrics can enhance security in other ways. Retraining security personnel to deal with the “exception” versus the “standard” could make the entire process faster and more secure. Security officers could be focused on looking for cues that may indicate a concern (e.g. someone sweating profusely or acting anxious) that a person would be able to notice but that a computer taking an iris scan wouldn’t. The result: additional screening measures could be applied when warranted, not necessarily “at random.”

Beyond security, biometrics has the opportunity to remake the passenger experience. As passengers embrace self-service technologies, biometrics enables a much faster and more pleasant trip through the airport. Rockwell Collins is creating self-service solutions that integrate biometric authentication into each phase of passenger processing, so everything from check-in through boarding the airplane can be securely automated while making the experience more care-free and smooth for the traveler.

Currently Challenges Exist
Despite its numerous advantages, implementing biometric programs at the airports globally has its challenges. As you might imagine, standardization among identity documents around the world is a large one. One example: European passports contain a digital file for each person’s image while U.S. driver’s licenses do not.

Another difficulty to consider is that the actual biometric used can vary. Facial recognition is quite common but cannot be used in some cultures, for example, if a woman is wearing a burka. It also requires passengers to look at the camera, which may not be feasible in some instances (a disabled person, a small child). And even though other modalities, like fingerprints or iris scans can be used, they also have limitations.

Privacy laws are also a main concern, specifically regarding biometrics data sharing, which differ from country to country. And while passengers currently have a choice and can opt out, in the future such programs could become mandatory.

Lights, Camera…Biometrics
Even with the existing challenges, using biometrics at airports looks promising. The benefits already being realized from current trials all but guarantee a continued expansion of the technology. Ultimately, biometrics are giving airports a way to maintain rigorous security levels and improve the passenger flow/experience. So while the nirvana-like travel experience initially described is not here yet, it may be very soon.

[This article originally appeared in Asia Pacific Airports Magazine and was penned by Tony Chapman, the author cited here.]

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All about data

New technology continues to change the way we travel and provide airports with new sources of data about passenger behaviours than can be used to improve operational efficiency and boost revenues.

You’re rushing to the airport to catch a flight when the service you’ve subscribed to sends a text message. It’s letting you know there’s an accident ahead and provides an alternate route.

It also lets you know that the parking garage you typically use is just about full and offers some other options. Because of the updates, you make it to the airport in time, jump on your flight and off you go.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? While it may not be available today at your local airport, this type of solution, and others like it, are generating a lot of interest in the aviation community.

These technologies are part of a new set of solutions that focus on traffic, queue and flow management to enhance the passenger experience, optimise operations and improve revenue by using data to better understanding passenger behaviour before getting to – and once at – the airport.

Unlike passenger facilitation solutions that enable travellers to go through security, check-in, drop bags, etc, as quickly and as efficiently as possible, passenger behaviour technologies focus on what passengers do in between those events.

Ultimately, the goal is to get a better understanding of passenger behaviour from the time they leave their home to how a passenger transits through the airport by using analytics.

Airports want to know specifically where passengers go, where they queue, where they dwell, and what more about their dining and shopping preferences.

New technologies provide new capabilities
Tracking and flow management solutions have existed for some time, but technological limitations have slowed adoption. However, that’s changing. The per cent of devices that can be tracked using Bluetooth, for example, is actually very low so previous solutions did not provide as much value. But new capabilities, like indoor satellite and advanced sensor networks, are removing limitations and making these solutions more useful for airports, and passengers, alike.

And the value does not need to come from tracking an individual but rather from understanding the general behaviour a person exhibits. For example, airports want to know that Person A was in security for 10 minutes, then stopped at a certain shop and then headed to the gate 45 minutes before departure.

At some point in the future, airports maybe able to identify an individual, but that’s likely to be subject to personal approval to opt in to a service, which will provide the passenger with a personalised service and other unique benefits, similar to the way a person may give up some of his or her privacy when using Google.

Optimising operations
Technologies that measure traffic in real time, reporting volume, speed, lane occupancy, queue length and other information are very useful to an airport as well as to arriving and/or departing passengers.

Systems that are continuously updated with the actual behaviour of passengers enable airports to proactively address issues.

Inside the terminal, effective people flow management is critical to an airport’s core business. Extensive video systems, neural networks coupled with artificial intelligence and deep learning techniques and other technologies, enable airports to get real-time measurements and analytics of passenger behaviour, predicted wait times, ongoing throughput levels and lane opening data, for example.

If predicted queue times at security are increasing, the head of security might receive a message to open a new line – eliminating issues before they become problems and increasing passenger satisfaction.

Understanding passenger analytics
Understanding where passengers dwell can provide unique insight for infrastructure decisions and also help maximise revenue. Understanding why people tend to congregate in this area versus that can impact how an airport designs, redesigns or builds new infrastructure.

How can it impact revenue? If an airport knows where its passengers dwell, it could, for example, charge different retail rates for different areas based on passenger behaviour.

Likewise, an airport could control the content on its digital signage to determine the best placement for product advertising. It could mix and match advertising and track it so it can bill based on the demographics and the number of people who see it.

Combining data creates powerful insights for airports
While airports globally are looking at implementing a number of these solutions, the biggest value will come from integrating passenger analytical data with the operational data captured from existing airport systems, like Rockwell Collins’ ARINC airport operations, passenger processing and self-service systems.

This integration would provide a much more comprehensive data set and enable airports to understand every aspect of its passengers’ behaviour. Most importantly, the data could be used to optimise operations and provide the services and facilities that it believes its customer wants.

And what if systems outside and inside the airport could be integrated? Take the example of an airport that bases its number of security screeners on expected passenger arrival rates and suddenly it’s not seeing those people? Real time data feeds to an integrated system, could identify the issue as a traffic accident that’s delayed travellers, and just knowing and when things were likely to clear up would enable the airport to adjust its staffing and/or add more self service systems in real time to handle the peak passenger load when it arrives.

And this integration could provide airports with even more insight. What if we could tell an airport if Airline A’s passengers behave differently from Airline B’s? Or if passengers behave differently in the evening than they do in the morning?

Using this data could impact the design and planning of airport infrastructure to best accommodate actual passenger behaviour.

In the future, airports will be well served by looking at IT solutions that provide a fully automated way to understand what an airport’s passengers are doing from when they start their journey, through the airport itself and all the way onto boarding the plane.

Ultimately, understanding and using passenger behaviour data and integrating it with operational data will be the key to unlocking the airport of the future.

This is a reproduction of an article first published in Asia-Airports Magazine, June 2017, the original article can be found on pages 40-42, here:

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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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