As passenger numbers increase far faster than airports can expand their structure or footprint, technological solutions are providing the aviation segment with a much-needed opportunity to improve efficiency. However, this requires an industry that historically has operated in silos, with separate infrastructures for airport, airlines and border authorities, to embrace cooperation. "They have to be more creative in optimising their operations," says Miguel Leitmann, founder and CEO of Vision-Box. "The digital transformation for them is the only way to go."

Leitmann's goal is to facilitate the development of airports in which airlines, security personnel, passengers and the hub itself work as actively collaborating partners in a smart environment. "The digital transformation is all about automating processes," he says. "It's about having all the stakeholders, including the passenger, connected to an ecosystem where they interact and participate to optimise the passenger journey."

The power of face matching

Vision-Box uses biometrics – in this case, face matching – as the means to manage, monitor and optimise a passenger's journey. Travellers only have to show their documentation once; from there on, a single biometric token provides identification, with the token being the passenger's unique facial traits. Biometrically enabled self-service touchpoints at key transitions – such as check-in, baggage drop, border control, lounge entrance and boarding – verify their identity. The result is a 'travellercentric ecosystem', which makes moving through the airport simple, stress-free and smart. Los Angeles Airport recently introduced contactless biometric boarding using Vision-Box technology, allowing 400 passengers to board in just 20 minutes.

This biometric system is based on a common-use platform – Orchestra – which offers a shared environment for all the stakeholders involved: the airport, airlines, security and passengers. It acts as a hub for data from numerous sources, gathering together large volumes of complex information and transforming it into useable insights. Its strength is in "dealing with data, real-time data, organising it better and optimising the whole process at the airport between all the stakeholders," Leitmann explains. This includes the passengers. "We don't see the passenger as the client of the airline in the airport; we see the customer, the passenger, as a stakeholder."

Harnessing this data increases airport security and efficiency. Many current airport processes still require manual or human intervention, which can be extremely difficult to monitor or check. "The moment we implement automation into the process, the system itself becomes more secure," Leitmann says. "You generate more data, you can analyse that data, and you can monitor and react to it much more quickly."

Keep data sharing safe

With regard to efficiency, he offers the example of an exterior event causing passengers to arrive late at an airport – perhaps a traffic hold-up. "If this happens today, there's no communication between the passengers, the airlines and the airport or the police authorities. You have no clue what is affecting you. If you have all of those stakeholders connected through orchestration platforms, you can very easily detect the specific amount of passengers related to that flight – for some reason, they are delayed in their arrival to the airport or they are delayed in the passage through the border control. The airline can be informed, the airport can be informed and they can quickly react and make decisions."

The flexibility and agility of the orchestration system is linked to its implementation of the internet of things (IoT); smart devices found all over the airport process information and provide intelligent data back to the system. Vision- Box's boarding gates and check-in kiosks are based on IoT technology, and can be updated and upgraded over the centralised architecture provided by Orchestra. IoT-enabled devices can include passengers' smartphones, further increasing the quantity of data produced and allowing greater optimisation.

As a technology that operates by sharing data, privacy is a priority and it is one that is built into the Orchestra platform; data is entirely controlled by its owner and not shared without their consent. As Leitmann puts it, "it is the passenger who triggers any transaction they want to enable and disconnect to become an indistinguishable citizen in the virtual world again". Unleashing the power of data comes with the responsibility "to offer travellers the opportunity to actually trust the use of their personal information and have control over its confidentiality, integrity and availability", Leitmann says. "Vision-Box believes that if the passenger trusts the system and actually has the benefit of a seamless journey, they are willing to share their information." Currently, Orchestra is the only passenger flow management solution certified by the Privacy by Design Centre of Excellence at Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada.

The future of biometrics

While, for now, this use of biometrics and the shared-use orchestration platform it relies on is limited to an airport environment, Leitmann sees it expanding to accompany passengers on their journeys to their destination airport, taxi rides, hotel check-in and beyond. He points to the facial recognition feature of the iPhone X as a key marker in the increasing adoption of biometrics in everyday life.

"Everything will be joining this kind of technology by enabling new interactions with the different touchpoints in your life, in society, through biometrics," Leitmann says.

"We think that mobile identity and mobile technology are going to be the next element to revolutionise this market." With the ubiquitous smartphone as the carrier of a mobile identity, the possibilities for biometric technology seem limitless.