Star Alliance Biometricslaunched last month, giving loyalty customers of the world’s largest global airline alliance a quicker, cleaner path through airports in Frankfurt and Munich, Germany. Lufthansa and SWISS International are the first airlines to implement Star Alliance Biometrics. In time, Star Alliance plans to make the service available to all 26 of its member airlines. NEC is proud to be the technology partner powering the new service with the NEC I:Delight identity platform software.
Star Alliance has a strong reputation for innovation in the airline industry. Upholding its commitment to listen to customer expectations and elevate the customer experience with cutting-edge solutions, Star Alliance decided two years ago to leverage NEC’s biometric and identity management platform to accelerate airport processes and alleviate bottlenecks.
That forward-thinking objective positioned Star Alliance as a problem-solving leader during the current pandemic, to use contactless biometrics to create hygienic, touchless checkpoints. Travelers who opt-in to use the Star Alliance Biometrics service simply check-in at each kiosk with a selfie rather than handling physical documents face-to-face with airport personnel.
As Star Alliance CEO Jeffrey Goh recently stated in a joint press release with Lufthansa Group, “Biometrics solutions are important as we move forward for the industry and for airports. First and foremost, it will offer a seamless customer experience. Second, it will offer the hygiene safety experience that customers are expecting coming out of the coronavirus crisis. But importantly, for many, many airports, infrastructural constraints have been a problem. And biometrics solutions will take away those infrastructural concerns.”
Register once, use often
As the Star Alliance Biometrics service expands over time, it will be interoperable among participating airlines and airports. As Alliance members adopt the technology and as air travel rebounds for the “next normal,” customers will be able to move seamlessly across the growing global network with a single secure digital ID.
Loyalty program members may opt-in using an app to scan their passports and snap a selfie. NEC technology validates the authenticity of the passport and the traveler’s biometrics to prevent spoofing or identity theft. NEC I:Delight is developed with privacy in mind, and this commitment to customer security and privacy was a key factor in Star Alliance’s decision to develop its platform with NEC.
Participants control their digital ID by selecting the partners who may access it. At the airport, authentication is intuitive in any language: Passengers face an integrated camera in a kiosk at the security zone and boarding gate. In the blink of an eye, the identity platform checks passengers against the saved flight manifest data, quickly producing a prompt for the traveler to continue through the checkpoint or to check-in with security or an airline agent.
The NEC I:Delight platform’s capabilities can also be extended to assist with Wayfinding in airports and enable Face Pay for purchases at duty free stores. Face Pay uses the same NEC protections for secure access to a participant’s account. Beyond the airport, the entire travel ecosystem can be enhanced with I:Delight by implementing face recognition in hospitality, retail, entertainment, car rental and other transportation.
Biometrics in the face of COVID
Face coverings create a challenge for many face recognition algorithms. Some masks cover more than half of a face, and this pandemic has seen a surge of new face mask styles, textures and patterns. NEC continually invests in improving its biometric algorithm – already the industry’s fastest and most accurate – and NEC has risen to the challenge.
The NEC face matching algorithm has proven its accuracy even with a face mask. Identity verification can occur in as little as 1.5 seconds –much faster and more accurate than human analysis with the face mask lowered.
NEC’s commitment to innovation over its long history and our consistent top ratings across biometric solutions led Star Alliance to choose NEC as the technology partner for its biometrics platform. CEO Jeffrey Goh says Star Alliance wanted a reliable partner that could give airline members confidence that they will continue to have secure and forward-thinking solutions that support the alliance’s reputation as a technology leader.
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When airport checkpoints move smoothly, travelers have more time to shop, dine and relax before their flight. NEC’s biometric facial recognition technology is the quickest and simplest way to authenticate a passenger’s identity, letting them fast-track through every process from bag check to boarding.
NEC has developed a unique partnership with SITA, a global provider of IT and communication infrastructure for 80% of the world’s airports. NEC’s Advanced Identity Matcher – Edge Source (AIM-ES) technology uses the most accurate face matching algorithms as validated by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), along with our NeoFace® algorithm, to deliver an all-in-one solution capable of creating recognition galleries and templates as well as providing identity matching and scoring. It easily integrates with the SITA Smart Path whole-journey identity management solution, which creates a specialized application for airport travelers.
Using the application, travelers can choose to use their digital identity for paperless boarding passes. A simple facial scan validates their identity at check-in and continues to authenticate passengers throughout the airport experience.
Implemented fully, a traveler can enable facial recognition in NEC’s I:Delight identity management platform to approve purchases in airport shops, on airlines, for hotels and transportation. Because it uses an individual’s unique ID, it is more secure than other online money transfer services.
No explanation required—in any language
Facial recognition is intuitive and transcends language barriers: Everyone knows how to take a selfie, so it’s natural to look at a screen for a snapshot. The results are also extremely quick. The photo hits the cloud, finds a match, then flashes a red light or green light—a universal signal for a person to stop or go ahead.
By comparison, other forms of biometric identification require the individual be at an exact distance and use a precise gesture—both of which involve an explanation and require more time. In addition, face coverings during the COVID-19 pandemic raise a new challenge, but NEC’s NeoFace biometric algorithms gather enough data from the visible part of the face to verify a traveler in the database.
Travelers simply opt-in to the platform to access the application. If they want touchless fast-tracking, they download an app to their phone, save an image of their face on the day of travel, and their image and secure travel documents are linked in a database for travel checkpoints. Travelers maintain self-sovereign identity, meaning each traveler selects who they will share their information with, such as an airline, hotel or retail service.
Customized for airlines, compliant with security
The partnership also streamlines adoption of the technology for airlines and airports. SITA Flex enables airports and airlines to build their own mobile applications for passengers, and NEC’s digital identity management software enables developers to overlay their interface with the NEC I:Delight platform.
Biometric verification can also be used for security and customs checkpoints. Each country has distinct requirements for security screening, and SITA has both the relationships and the extensive local workforce to customize our platform for compliance and scale at each location. All systems adhere to country and local policies, and NEC is completely transparent about how data is used. For example, data for international travelers in the U.S. is stored for six hours, then expunged.
Delta Air Lines is already using the NEC facial recognition platform in Atlanta to fast-track passengers. The hygienic, touchless system is ideal during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Delta will expand this streamlined process to other U.S. airport hubs.
Internationally, NEC and SITA have a project in Thailand, at multiple airports in India, and Star Alliance is rolling out NEC I:Delight in Europe. Star Alliance plans to enable travelers to use their travel reward points system as a purchasing method—in flight as well as at the airport, hotel and transportation.
The NEC-SITA partnership creates an opportunity to scale NEC biometrics technology to more than 460 airports running on SITA’s infrastructure around the world.
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Business and travel shutdowns and mandatory 14-day quarantines have proven to slow the spread of COVID-19, albeit at great cost to local economies. States are now challenged with reopening commerce without causing a spike in infections, which could again overwhelm hospitals and lead to further lockdowns.
Prior to deployment, members of the Hawaii National Guard were manually scanning deplaning passengers for elevated body temperature. The new thermal screening system speeds the process and reduces potential exposure of pathogens from infected passengers to human screeners.
NEC NeoFace® Thermal Express technology empowers both government agencies and private commercial entities to check temperatures of foot traffic, without having to create long lines or bottlenecks for individual identification and temperature checks. In a time when social distancing is needed, the flow-through system promotes safety and hygiene by isolating EBT and identifying the source on the move.
The airport travel experience has remained constant for a LONG time. For many of us, words like “unpredictable,” “slow,” and “frustrating” immediately come to mind. I spend a lot of time in airports, and can personally affirm that the international pursuit of innovation within the aviation industry could not be more obvious or focused than it is right now.
Your usual experience: arrive at the airport, wait in a line to get your ticket, wait in a line for security, then wait in a line to board your plane—and until just a few years ago, this was generally the case. However, as other fields have proven the advantages of certain technologies, applications to and acceptance by commercial aviation has become more and more apparent. Biometric solutions have especially begun revolutionizing the airport experience for all stakeholders involved – travelers, airlines, airport operations, vendors, government, and law enforcement.
About five years ago, biometrics did the same for the mobile device industry—and before that, fingerprints were only associated with law enforcement. Today, fingerprints have become ubiquitous as a quick and easy replacement for our passwords, allowing us to unlock everything from our phones to our bank accounts, with a single press. The ease of use has made life a lot simpler for users, and a lot more secure for providers.
That same convenience and security is now being brought to the airport environment, by leveraging all the technological innovations that have been produced over the last ten years.
In fact, at the American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) Airport Innovation Forum this year, our session was “Know Your Customer: Leveraging Personalization and Innovation in the Passenger Experience”, and focused on how airports around the world are engaging with new and innovative solutions that bring the real benefits of self-service and automation to modernize the airport experience for everyone.
During the 2019 AAAE Airport Innovation forum in Chicago, many speakers got up on stage to show how technology is revolutionizing the airport. From self-driving vehicles to optimization of back office operations, to facial recognition and analytics that reduce wait times using dynamic content displays, a digital transformation in the aviation environment is definitely under way. And an important priority has universally taken shape: how to make travelers safer and the customer experience more convenient throughout the aviation journey—everything from check-in, bag-checks and security to airport shopping.
Security is, of course, of the utmost importance, and rightly so–even though it often has a negative impact on the traveler experience. We know the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are working daily (and nightly!) to keep our skies safe, which is why biometrics is so important to the security process. Having the ability to instantly verify that secure documents are valid and do match the identity and confirmed reservation of the traveler ensures that only vetted passengers arrive on the other side of that security line. Biometric security enhancements actually serve a dual purpose; not only are biometrics more accurate at screening individuals, they also move lines along faster. By bringing automation to necessary processes–that can then be optimized and become more predictable, this creates a better airport experience for everyone.
With the ability to predict wait times, passengers are able to spend more time doing what they choose, from relaxing in the lounge, to visiting duty-free shops (as biometrics also lets you “pay with your face”!).
Big change cannot be driven solely by the technology, though, which means leadership events like the AAAE Airport Innovation Forum are extremely important. More collaboration amongst industry stakeholders is critical to the success of the digital revolution in commercial aviation, for real change that is predicated on thoughtful policy and implementation, careful execution, and effective change management.
This paradigm shift is being driven by a recent realization by all stakeholders that, in fact, there is a common goal – digital transformation, for a better customer experience, improved commerce, cost and time savings, optimized security and smoother airport operations.
Next time you’re at the airport, think about how biometrics is, or could be, reducing the burden on airport operations, and making your life more secure.
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