Biometric technology aims to speed air travel

EyeTicket and the International Air Transport Association are testing a biometric technology that promises to speed the process of air travel.

Travelers seeking to zip through airline checkout counters and baggage claim stations may no longer have to wait in long lines.

A new technology being tested by EyeTicket and the International Air Transport Association takes a digital camera and captures images of a passenger's eyes.

The technology identifies people by the pattern of their irises--the colored ring around the pupil of the eye. McLean, Va.-based EyeTicket said the software then translates the iris pattern into a passport number or frequent-flier number so that the airport and airline computers can identify the passenger. The company said the technology could also be used for baggage checks as well as hotel check-ins and rental car pick-ups.

The testing comes as the field of biometrics--which identifies people based on their physical characteristics or behavioral movements--is gaining momentum. In this past Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., law enforcement officials used a technology that captured the images of people entering the stadium and compared them with a database of criminals' faces.

While privacy watchdogs are concerned over biometrics abuse in which people's every move is tracked, EyeTicket said its system is no more dangerous than using an automated teller machine. The company added that it does not collect any personal information, transactions, purchases or details of people's physical movements.

EyeTicket Chief Executive Stewart Mann said that the company is "committed to exceeding all expectations and playing a key role" in the initiatives set by the International Air Transport Association Simplifying Passenger Travel Interest Group (SPTIG)--which comprises organizations such as British Airways, the United Kingdom Immigration Service and Virgin Atlantic Airways. The group aims to improve passenger travel.

EyeTicket said the test run, announced last week, is being held in England's Heathrow Airport and involves up to 2,000 North American citizens who are customers of Virgin Atlantic and British Airways and who frequently travel to the United Kingdom. The participants are enrolled and pre-cleared by the U.K. Immigration Service and are required to look into a video camera when they arrive at Heathrow's passport control so their identity can be verified, according to EyeTicket.

Even though passengers still need to carry their passport in case they may need to present it, the trial run is the first to rely entirely on biometric identification, according to EyeTicket.

"I expect we will see other trials launched at major airports throughout the world," Thomas Windmuller, director of the SPT Initiative, said in a statement. "These trials will demonstrate that it is indeed possible to streamline passenger processing, reduce waiting times, and significantly enhance the travel experience while saving money for everyone involved."

EyeTicket owns and licenses its core iris recognition technology from New Jersey-based Iridian Technologies.

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