Future technologies and airport security

Future technologies and airport security

Technology will help to improve airport security and passengers to benefit of an on boarding seamless experience, without (m)any interactions with security staff. In this post a glimpse of what is going to happen.

Two days ago. Jennifer confirmed her purchase with a click and received the flight e-ticket on her smartphone. An alghoritm started to process all information available on Jennifer, including past travels destinations and to interrogate some security databases around the world about her. While her profile resulted “low risk”, she was already 3D printing her RFID tag for her luggage.

Future technologies and airport securityToday. Jennifer parked her car at the airport. The moment she entered in the airport area a smart surveillance camera achieved her car number plate, her driver license, but most important, scanned her face for facial recognition. She is a frequent flyer, so her biometric data are already available in the system. This lowered her profile risk from “low” to “none”. She walked to the check-in desk where she drop off her luggage on a conveyor belt, which quickly disappeared into the airport belly and guided by the tag, moved lazy to the airplane parking area.

She then scanned her iris and were asked by a robotic voice to walk in the yellow corridor, the one for “none” or “low” risk travellers. In just five meters the tunnel, equipped with invisible scanners, x-ray machines, metal and liquid detectors checked her and her hand luggage carefully without sniffing or revealing any dangerous item. In a few minutes she got to the boarding desk and when she got in the waiting area a beacon tracked her and sent to her smartphone a queue number to facilitate and speed up her boarding on the plane.

Future technologies and airport securityIs this scenario really going to happen? Airport security is a topic involving several counterparts: passengers, flight companies, aereoport structures and governments. Passengers would benefit from this scenario, but unfortunately they have little or no influence on how the security works. Goverments priority is the security onto their territories, but each country has its own set of rules and adopt a different type of technology, the babel is already there; the possibility that an international standard is agreed, appears quite remote at the moment; in the meantime huge public funds are invested into police and personnel. Flight companies are for sure interested in customer satisfaction, but if some unsatisfaction is generated at airport level they can live with it; what they cannot sustain are the costs of controls on their side (personnel, equipments and rigid procedures). But the real party concerned is the airport. Predictions about passengers volumes report strong growth in the next few years (+50% by 2020) and airports do not have space and resources to face increasing costs of security (and are not happy to waste space that could generate an higher ROI if dedicated to services or shopping galleries).

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Solutions to increase airport security

So let’s have a look at what solutions we will see in place in the future to generate a win-win-win approach:

1. Biometrics: face and iris scanners can quickly identify a person; we can imagine that biometrics may even replace paper or electronic documents; India has started to build a database that, a regime, will include of 12 billion fingerprints, 2.4 billion iris scans and 1.2 billion photographs (basically all the population); the 120 m biometric records in possession of US appear to be a small number!

2. Behavioral analytics: the ability of humans to analyze and interpret big volumes of data is limited, but a computer can do better and faster; from the moment a ticket is purchased to the movements of a passenger into the airport, alghoritms (learn more in this Mashable post) can identify behaviours of people likely to be engaged in aviation-related terrorism;

3. Termal lies detectors: they are cameras that senses changes in facial temperature when someone is being questioned (find more in this CNN article); even if we agree with the idea that technology will help to expedite the in-airport journey of half of the passengers,  there will always be a minority to be investigated more in the depth;

4. Roomba like vigilantes: we have heard that cloned sniffed dogs will be in the future of airport security; it does sound expensive, risky and for somebody unetichal; we think it will be more efficient to have robots scannnig for prohibited liquids, metals and chemicals and equipped with surveillance cameras;

5. Advanced tunnels: prototypes are already in place in Amsterdam, London, Doha and recently Melbourne; the IATA Smart Security project and application is described in this video; the promise is fantastic, just walk without interruption for a few meters in a corridor which will scan you with a different sensitivity if you are a “know person” or not.

6. Personnel training: technology will be of great help, but human interaction can still add value; some companies developed specific trainings to help security officers to spot suspicious behaviors during a basic and apparently casual conversation; basically this is a profiling activity we have learnt from some of the most famous tv fictions.

Airport security is going to change faster than you expect!


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