Mobile biometric app is a game-changer in travel

With social distancing likely to continue for months, a mobile biometric app could keep passengers passing safely through airports.

Even before the challenging times the air transport industry is now facing, many airports were already operating at full capacity. When the global economy ramps up after the coronavirus outbreak, passenger numbers are likely to climb again. The current respite and social distancing that will be needed should be a time when airports review their passenger flows.

“The ultimate goal for any airport is to make the experience as hassle-free as possible, balancing the security and the seamless movement of travellers,” explains Matthias Karl Koehler, vice president at Mühlbauer, a global leader in biometric identification and border management systems.

“Managing passengers in a smart and reliable way, with little disturbance, easy ID and boarding checks, is crucial. Currently, there are bottlenecks at passport control and at checkpoints, so with COVID-19 still looming large, people in close proximity could be an issue.”

Airports around the world from Dubai to Amsterdam Schiphol have set up pilot systems to streamline passenger flow. These approaches have relied on centralised biometric databases of pre-registered travellers. They are based on biometric self-boarding systems, which utilise facial recognition technology. Video surveillance at touchpoints inside the airport has also been used.

“This has allowed airport authorities to track passenger movements in a detailed, yet very privacy-invasive, manner. The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, which requires citizen consent when it comes to processing personal data, has set a new precedent. Observing passengers and scanning a centralised database for facial images is no longer possible,” says Koehler, whose company has provided comprehensive biometric solutions on a global scale from Argentina to Mozambique, Fiji to Switzerland.

Currently, biometric documents such as e-passports, commonly used in the EU and elsewhere, require digital reading devices that access information on a contactless chip. This is used to compare and verify the document and its holder. These work at stationary machines set up at checkpoints in the airport, but lead to travellers congregating.

“In the current situation, it would be much better if data reading devices were mobile, creating better traveller flow and distancing within the airport. This is why Mühlbauer has developed systems for the mobile verification of e-passports. These solutions include applications which can be used on a smartphone to easily check electronic travel documents,” says Koehler.

“The so-called MB STEEL READER MOBILE app verifies electronic and physical security features such as the visible image, as well as the infrared and ultraviolet images of the document. It can compare the travel document’s holder-page information with the data stored on the chip, but also the document data and corresponding records in a database. It is a game-changer.”

The app can be used anytime and anywhere inside an airport’s security area without disturbing passenger flow. This will be essential as travellers begin to return to airports after the COVID-19 outbreak.

In the current situation, it would be much better if data reading devices were mobile, creating better traveller flow and distancing within the airport

The e-passport continues to be the digitalised anchor of trust, since it holds the traveller’s data. Mühlbauer’s certified mobile application then accesses the data in the passport’s contactless chip and transfers it to the trusted storage of the mobile device. Centralised or decentralised face verification proves the document belongs to the user. Interfaces to external services allow further personal data to be checked. All data is stored temporarily, therefore it’s compliant with EU data regulations.

“The application can also be used on standard mobile devices such as smartphones or tablets. High-priced reading equipment or large stationary inspection counters are no longer needed. Airports will be able to utilise space more efficiently and effectively,” says Koehler.

“This is just the start. The digital tokenised system can be enriched over time. We could move to a real wallet containing ID and travel documents, tickets, reservations, vouchers, boarding passes and other useful data. It could even be used by officials as a new type of mobile ID. The app also contains all the data elements of an e-passport. There are endless possibilities.”

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