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C-27J Spartan

Avatars and self-service bag drops enhance airport security and ‘passenger experience’

FEATURES: Line of Defence, April 2016

A bank of BCS bag drops at Brisbane airport. Image courtesy of BCS.A bank of BCS bag drops at Brisbane airport. Image courtesy of BCS.


Self check-in kiosks are being installed at airports around the world. They are quicker at processing passengers, they take up far less space than traditional counters, and they free up staff for other roles.

Last December, Air New Zealand installed its new ‘world first’ self-service biometric bag drops at Auckland International Airport. “Featuring technology similar to that used by SmartGate passport control facilities,” stated an Air NZ press release, “customers scan their passports and boarding passes to have their identities verified by a biometric camera before being invited to place their bags on the scale to be weighed [and] before they’re sent through to the airline’s baggage handling system.”

According to Air New Zealand Group General Manager Airports John Whittaker, it’s about using technology to enhance the customer experience, providing a more seamless airport journey, reducing the time it takes for customers to check in, and freeing up staff to interact with customers that require assistance.

Five new automatic self-service bag drops are now available for use by passengers checking in at Auckland International Airport with a further eight planned to be installed in early 2016.

While the use of biometric technology for bag drop provides for more seamless service – and the ability for airlines and airports to handle more volume without additional staff and space – there is also a security dividend. Synched up with a biometric bag retrieval system at destination, the technology can potentially ensure that the right bag gets back to its rightful owner prior to customs checks.

The level of international and cross-agency cooperation to enable this, however, is somewhat over the horizon.

Ideally, the passenger biometric data scanned in at check-in or bag-drop could potentially be used again at any one of the various check-points that constitute the airport experience. But again, this would require a level of cooperation and regulatory change that is still some way off.


BCS bag drop at Brisbane Airport. Image courtesy of BCS.BCS bag drop at Brisbane Airport. Image courtesy of BCS.


Developing technologies: airport avatars

Back in August 2014, technology company BCS and Limbic (a commercial spinoff from University of Auckland's Laboratory for Animate Technologies research) hit the news (NZ Herald, 16 Aug 2014), for creating an avatar that might be used at check-in/bag-drop.

Limbic’s founder Mark Sagar, who had won two Academy Awards for his effects work at Sir Peter Jackson's film studio, Weta Digital, demonstrated an interactive avatar at the TEDx science and technology conference in Auckland in 2013. The avatar – to be deployed at airport bag drop kiosks – would be able to assess traveller emotions using 3D cameras and directional microphones, and adjust the tone of their banter accordingly.

It was reported at the time that the avatar work would be assisted by $2.4 million in funding from Callaghan Innovation.

Fast-forward 18 months and, according to Patrick Teo of Daifuku BCS Group, the company is yet to combine the avatar feature to its self-service check-in kiosks.

“We are continuing to work with UniServices and Mark Sagar on this. We have not released this as yet and will only do so when we feel that it is ready and the self service check-in experience is even better than a serviced check-in,” he stated recently to Line of Defence Magazine.

According to Mr Teo, there are already avatars out there at the bag-drop frontline, but they don’t cut muster. “There are many pretenders, primarily poor quality animations, which is an injustice to the great work that Mark Sagar is doing,” he opined.

Nevertheless, BCS has just completed some major self service check-in projects in New Zealand, Perth and Melbourne.

“To expand on our success in Oceania and South East Asia, we are starting to look at expanding our market reach to now include wider Asia and Middle East.  Together with our sister companies in Europe and North America, we are also starting to work on major projects in UK, France, USA and Canada,” he said.

While it may be some time yet before you are greeted by a self-service check-in kiosk avatar, the prospect of it nevertheless is enticing… an injection of personality into an otherwise robotic, automated process. But could such technology ultimately prove to be more than just a pretty face?


Virgin bag drops at Perth Airport. Image courtesy of BCS.Virgin bag drops at Perth Airport. Image courtesy of BCS.


With an ability to assess traveler emotions using a range of sensors, it is not too much of a stretch to envisage the use of such technology to profile traveler behavior and potentially ‘red flag’ individuals acting suspiciously for more careful checking at immigration or security prior to departure. It may seem far-fetched, but in the audio and video analytics space, systems able to detect individual agitation and aggression already exist.

According to Louroe Electronics, a leader in audio monitoring technology, 90 percent of physical aggression is preceded by verbal aggression. Louroe claims that its aggression detector is capable of recognising aggression in a person’s voice, allowing staff to be warned at an early stage if someone is beginning to show signs of aggression. The system automatically detects rising human aggression, anger or fear, and warns staff by a visual alert or by triggering an alarm.

It may sound like science fiction, but not so many years ago so did self-service biometric bag drop.

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