Singapore has introduced iris and facial recognition scans at its Changi Airport
The world is still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic. The impact of the COVID-19 extends well beyond people’s health, including shutting down airports and industries, other public places, economic recession, and more. However, it also highlighted the importance of social distancing, contactless technologies, and sanitation innovations too. Now, when airports across the globe are anticipating to resume operations, there are some sure bound changes to prevent infections and lead a chapter of travel powered by tech. So, it is obvious to expect more number of disinfection booths, biometric security scans, cleaning robots, automated customs, and border patrol screenings, and enhanced self-check-in stations in the airport premises. For instance, Malaysian low-cost airline Air Asia introduced contactless kiosks and contactless payment options, in May, at airports in Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, and Japan where it operates. This allows passengers to check-in and makes payments using airport systems without having actually to touch them. Now, Singapore is on the course of building a new airport experience for travelers.
Last year, Singapore’s Deputy Prime Minister, Heng Swee Keat, unveiled border security as one of the five critical national AI projects, a part of Singapore’s new national AI strategy. The objective of this project is to bring AI to the borders. Speaking at the Singapore Fintech Festival and Singapore Week of Innovation and Technology conference, he explained that AI-backed border security would mean a faster and more seamless experience for travelers when clearing immigration checks. The process will also reduce human error and allow immigration officers working at staffed counters to concentrate on higher-value work, such as focusing on visitors who may require closer scrutiny.
In continuation of this initiative, a fully automated system was installed at Changi Airport Terminal 4, which uses a facial recognition system that captures a passenger’s photo at different stations, accounting for 20% savings in workforce and efficiency. Voted as the Best Airport in Asia seven years in a row, Changi Airport introduced a series of initiatives to ease the minds of the anxious travelers who are traveling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. These included installing proximity touch screens at kiosks across Terminal 1 and Terminal 3 and infrared sensors to track finger movements. This ensures that people do not touch the screen and allow contactless check-in and baggage drop process. Next, elevators were fitted with infrared technology to allow passengers to get to the desired floor by hovering their hand over the sensor for activating the lift button. In addition, it has been trialing the use of ultraviolet-C light technology to disinfect handrails on escalators and travelators.
Nearly, 400 acrylic screens have been installed mainly at Terminal 3, between the passengers and airport officials, in cases people wish to use check-in counters. These screens are also being installed at immigration, customs, GST refund and information booths. Further, automated cleaning robots fitted with a misting attachment to take care of cleaning services. They also disinfect the surface after the cleaning process is over. Moreover, multi-modal biometric systems replaced fingerprint scanning at immigration clearance points.
Now recently, the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) rolled out iris and facial recognition as the primary biometric identifier as a contactless and more hygienic solution that may help mitigate the spread of the COVID-19. These tech solutions have been piloted at Changi Airport Terminal 4, Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, and the Tuas and Woodlands checkpoints that border Northern neighbor Malaysia. ICA informs that an iris scan provides almost 250 feature points for matching than 100 points for a fingerprint. Besides, iris patterns remain stable against aging, unlike fingerprints, which are prone to scarring and dryness too. The facial scan acts as a “second check” for the person’s identity. Children below six will not be eligible for these scans, as their physical features and related biometrics are still developing. Also, foreign visitors will need to enroll their biometric details with the agency when they arrive in Singapore for the first time.
Singapore is targeting to fully implement iris and facial recognition as part of its New Clearance Concept at all checkpoints by 2022. “With contactless technology, it allows us to capture the biometrics without any physical contact with the machine, so it (the process) is hygienic. This is especially important, given this current Covid-19 pandemic situation,” said Deputy Superintendent (DSP) Melvin Tiang, ICA’s deputy head of operations development.
As the COVID-19 acts as a disruptive force while it continues to be mercurial, changes are taking place across airports around the globe. At Doha International Airport, staff members are donning thermal screening helmets to assess travelers’ temperature. This helmet uses multiple advanced technologies such as infrared thermal imaging, artificial intelligence, and AR (augmented reality) display. Meanwhile, Hong Kong International Airport has deployed Intelligent Sterilization Robots (ISR), which are tall, self-moving robots equipped with a UV light sterilizer and an air sterilizer to kill germs. At JFK, an artificial intelligence platform called SafeDistance has been employed to monitor congestion via cameras, so employees can quickly identify overcrowded areas and open up other avenues of access in response.