Is it the ultimate surveillance scenario or a step forward in the passenger experience? Or maybe a little bit of both?? Vendors are cooperating today to deliver integrated biometrics in the inflight entertainment system, tying together a camera embedded in the screen with connectivity to various other platforms that can act on the data. The good news is that the technology is still young and the product integration still developing. How will it play out? During the APEX EXPO last month in Long Beach, California Panasonic Avionics‘ senior director of Corporate Sales & Marketing Jon Norris spoke about some of the early ideas and partnerships the company is pursuing.
We’ve moved on from [IFE control via eye tracking]. We can enhance from a passenger point of view accessibility & wellness on a seamless journey. We’re exploring how you can mix those together. It is not to be a creepy voyeur.
During the show PAC announced a strategic partnership with biometrics and identity company Tascent to pursue integration of their systems throughout the passenger journey.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) September 26, 2017
Norris highlighted the opportunity to integrate with immigration controls, for example, as part of the kit. Some travelers today have the opportunity to complete those formalities on a mobile phone rather than through paperwork or a kiosk in the terminal. One concept being pursued expands that opportunity to all passengers on a flight.
On the airplane, on approach, I’ve got a bit of time. I’m going to do a biometric scan and I’m going to clear Global Entry on the plane. Then, without even stopping because there is a partnered machine in the terminal, you just walk straight through without even pausing. And that will continue to evolve.
A version of this solution – also developed by Tascent – is coming to Singapore’s new Changi Airport Terminal 4 set to officially open for business at the end of this month. Dubai is installing similar systems at its T3 next year, with a “virtual aquarium tunnel” doing the video scanning. It requires cooperation between many partners, not just the IFE and identity vendors, but it is the sort of use case that continues to develop. And executives across the industry expect this to be the norm, not the exception, soon enough.
A tightly paired set of factors are key to success in these implementations: Passengers must feel comfortable sharing the information and also realize a benefit from that sharing. They must feel that they are both protected and advantaged because of the service. Norris notes that in the digital world there is always “information [consumers] will share because they will get a benefit from it,” and sees this as no different. Getting there will take time, though there are some external factors that will help.
The recent introduction of Face ID in Apple’s iPhone X, for example, will help normalize the use of facial recognition as a credential token. Tie that in to PAC’s companion app development where travelers can build a movie playlist prior to flight and the integration opportunities start to appear. A passenger connects to the companion app via their biometric identity and the playlist immediately loads on the seat when they board the aircraft. The pairing process is handled by facial recognition rather than NFC or Bluetooth. All three deliver the same functionality but the facial recognition option is far lower on the technical challenge spectrum for the average traveler.
It is worth remembering that, as with many first generation technologies, the ideas do not always take flight. Systems to replace the IFE controller with eye-tracking, for example, have not shown much in the way of compelling sue case or real easing of passenger interaction. Contactless fingerprint or iris scanning for lounge entry, on the other hand, is a thing. Biometric trials are also underway with a variety of airlines (e.g. JetBlue for passenger boarding at Boston or Delta’s similar trial with SkyClub access at Washington-National Airport; flight boarding is expected in a future iteration). And even the US government has indicated its willingness to cooperate in some digital immigration efforts; the Mobile Passport application is now integrated into the Miami Airport app rather than only as a standalone product.
These systems will almost certainly look different in just a couple years’ time, but do not expect that they’ll disappear. All indications trend strongly in the opposite direction.
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