Airport security wants a good look at travelers … from a distance

Airport security wants a good look at travelers … from a distance

New biometrics systems and security protocols are being assembled in Australia in anticipation of the eventual return of normal air travel. But the coming new chapter in commercial air travel is expected to create a unique push/pull strain on governments, businesses and travelers.

After 9/11, law enforcement and private security personnel decided they needed to get intimately close to tens of thousands of innocent people a day to make flying safe. That has been the “pull.”

COVID-19 has the airline industry pushing travelers away to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, writes Sheldon H. Jacobson, professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The never-ending effort to thwart terrorism mandates proximity, and while COVID-19 is as likely as past scourges to be vanquished, new pandemics are all but certain. It is not clear how the two imperatives can co-exist, but passenger volumes are not expected to return to normal anytime soon.

It is probable that Australian officials are preparing to invest in remote biometrics systems similar to those now used in China and South Korea to read travelers’ temperatures from a distance, according to an article in the Australia publication 9News.

A sign of fever likely would see affected travelers shunted for a deeper health assessment during which officials would examine a person’s ePassport for its travel and health information archive. Receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, should one be developed, would become part of the passport’s data.

In the short run, when traffic is recovering, the travel industry will have time to fiddle with the most efficient way to make sure no one with a fever or a box cutter gets aboard a plane. No doubt, businesses and governments at least in the United States will argue over who pays for the upgrades.

After that initial period, unless both biometric and security technology gets more granular and efficient fast, the best that the travel industry probably can hope for is no significant new delay in moving people from security and the departure gate.

The number of products and proposals to spot sick travelers are growing.

Vision-Box has published a white paper on the potential of contactless digital identity technology with advanced biometrics can save lives by clearing people quickly and seamlessly at checkpoints in travel hubs and border crossings to prevent physical interaction with potentially infected devices, personnel or surfaces.

And a Chinese artificial intelligence developer, Rokid, sells thermal imaging glasses that can record the temperatures of 200 people in two minutes. The glasses are equipped with a Qualcomm CPU, a 12-megapixel camera and augmented-reality voice control to capture live photos and videos. The product includes facial recognition.

Another firm, Kuang-chi Technology makes a polished black N901 motorbike helmet customized with a side-mounted infra-red camera capable of reading the temperatures of people as distant as 15 feet. The helmet debuted last November with an eight-hour battery.

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