Star Alliance Biometrics streamlines boarding process with NEC I:Delight identity management platform

Star Alliance Biometrics launched 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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NEC’s I:Delight platform is taking flight with SITA partnership

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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Compassion and innovation can be a positive force for the social justice movement

As a technology industry leader with deep research and development roots, NEC is guided both by strong principles around scientific exploration, as well as the ethical implications of our projects.

I wrote recently that a brighter world “will never exist while systemic racism and other forms of social injustice continue to oppress the Black and other marginalized communities.”

Globally, NEC Corporation President & CEO Takashi Niino has stated previously that as a supplier of public safety technologies, we are committed to maintaining an open and broad dialogue with employees, customers, partners, citizens, civic leaders and our colleagues in government.

NEC is a company with developed core values, including AI & Human Rights Principles, and we are committed to helping to end racial injustice in our society. Our efforts to operationalize our values and AI & Human Rights Principles help us responsibly develop and sell biometric technologies, including face, iris, fingerprint, palm print, finger vein, and others.

Today in the United States, many law enforcement agencies use our technology as a tool for investigative decision-making and determining possible leads in a case. As noted by numerous legal experts and scholars, a match using facial recognition alone is not a means for positive identification. Additional police work is required.

police in the communityAlthough current events have brought the topics of social justice, law enforcement and technology to the forefront of national discourse, NEC, through continued research and development, has long thought about the ways in which facial recognition algorithms can affect people of color. We have gone to great lengths to ensure our facial recognition algorithms are accurate across racial and other demographic groups.

For over a decade, our algorithms have ranked highest in accuracy in tests by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), widely considered a global authority on testing of biometric algorithms. Unlike many facial recognition algorithms that in last year’s NIST report, showed a pervasive problem with demographic disparity, NEC’s high-performing algorithm did not demonstrate this issue. As the matter of fact, our algorithm was singled out for being “on many measures, the most accurate algorithm we have ever tested.” This holds true across the diverse array of races and genders represented in the image test database.

This brings me to what NEC believes on the issues.

We believe it is possible to have compassion and actively work to improve conditions for America’s vibrant communities of color, while supporting our law enforcement customers and supporting reforms that encourage responsible use of our technology by law enforcement.

Furthermore, we believe that public safety agencies should responsibly use advanced facial recognition and other innovative technologies to help correct inherent biases, protect privacy and civil rights, and fairly and effectively conduct investigations for social justice.

On the topic of policy and regulation, we have and shall continue to support the development of legislation that provides and enhances existing guidelines for the responsible use of facial recognition technology.

We are dedicated to working with our law enforcement customers, the diverse communities they serve, and the policymakers who represent those diverse communities to find the best possible path forward. As we continue to work toward a brighter world, we plan to find ways to participate in ending systemic racism in America, and to use the best technology to do so.

Sincerely,
Mark Ikeno
President & CEO
NEC Corporation of America

A Message from the Office of Mark Ikeno, President and CEO of NEC Corporation of America

As events have unfolded this past week, many of us have gone through a spectrum of emotions. Sadness, anger, grief, frustration, and a strong desire for change all come to mind.

George Floyd’s death is unfortunately just one recent event in a long history of similarly tragic incidents across the country, and we recognize that the current increased focus on systemic racial justice issues is long overdue. We stand with those who are grieving and hurting and support those working to eradicate racial injustice in our society.

We understand that the brighter world we strive to orchestrate will never exist while systemic racism and other forms of social injustice continue to oppress the Black and other marginalized communities.

To those of you powerfully explicating and combatting these complex problems, we appreciate your work, we are paying attention, and we are committed to being part of the solutions.  Although we do not yet know exactly what those solutions will entail, we are listening, we are watching, and we are broadening and deepening our ongoing dialogue about the multifaceted issues at the intersection of racial justice, human rights, and technology.

To our law enforcement, first responder, and public safety customers who are dedicated to protecting and serving individuals of all races, religions, genders, and sexual orientations, we recognize the challenges you face and how difficult it must be to see so many of our communities so divided. We are committed to continuing to partner with you and the communities you serve to cooperatively ensure that our efforts to make society safer equally make society more just and inclusive.

We are here to support our employees, our customers, and all those taking a stand against injustice as we all band together, the way we must, to employ our individual and collective skills and resources to shape a better future for the world.

Sincerely,
Mark Ikeno
President & CEO
NEC Corporation of America

COVID-19 / Coronavirus Update

Disclaimer: This blog post reflects the latest available information regarding NEC’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States. We will periodically update this post as new information becomes available.

Updated March 25, 2020

Like all companies, NEC Corporation of America has been closely monitoring the COVID-19 / novel coronavirus outbreak. The health of our customers, partners, employees and their families are of paramount importance, and we are actively aligning our response based on guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

While COVID-19 has not had a direct impact on NEC’s operations, we are taking the necessary precautions to help promote the health and wellbeing of our employees while maintaining the highest level of satisfaction and support for our customers and partners.

In the best interest of the health of NEC customers, partners and employees, NEC has implemented two measures regarding business travel and teleworking for our employees. These measures are designed to curtail the spread of the virus, while remaining as responsive as possible to our customers’ and partners’ needs.

  • Effective Monday, March 16, 2020, all domestic and international business travel by NEC employees must be deemed mission-critical before it will be approved.
  • Through at least April 3, NEC is instituting voluntary teleworking for all employees that are able to do so, except for those who live in areas affected by “stay at home” orders where teleworking is mandatory.
  • For employees working in critical on-site functions, such as those in our distribution warehouse, no non-essential visitors will be admitted for the safety of our employees.
  • For any NEC employees who must work on a customer’s location, we will continue to provide the level of support that they’ve come to rely upon from us. In some cases, employees who fall into the category of high-risk as defined by the CDC will be given the option to work remotely.
  • NEC office locations currently impacted by “stay at home” orders have been closed to outside visitors and are only open to mission-critical staff. All other NEC office locations will remain open and accessible unless otherwise required to close. To date we have had no employees impacted and no contamination issues. We will continue to follow CDC guidelines for regular cleaning and disinfecting of these locations.

We very much appreciate your trust and partnership with NEC and hope that you are taking similar precautions to keep your employees healthy and safe. If you have any concerns, requests or needs that NEC can address for you during this time, we are here to listen and help. Please do not hesitate to reach out to your NEC contacts.

Meanwhile, we will update this blog post as needed on the COVID-19 situation, and as any new decisions are made.

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