Written in Stansted Airport and dispatched to silicon.com via a commercial wi-fi service
For nearly a year I have considered joining the iris-scanning security trial at Heathrow Airport. But I have so far managed to miss every opportunity. How come?
What I am about to describe I have witnessed endless times without fail or improvement.
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After flying from some distant country I arrive at Heathrow to be confronted by a long line of humanity waiting for the immigration agent's eye. Right alongside is the empty aisle for the iris scanner, and I wistfully look over as some lucky individual strolls up with something of an air of superiority. No waiting in line for them!
'Damn,' I think. 'I should have joined the programme on the way out, and then I could be like them, no waiting and no questions. Just breeze straight back into my own country unimpeded.'
The traveller going through the iris scan enters the booth with full confidence. Then the 'dance of the immature technology' begins. Move closer, move to the left, stand further back, look up, look down and so on. The traveller is then asked to leave the booth, re-enter and start again. This dance is repeated until an attendant arrives to reboot the technology. By this time I'm at the front of the long line and on my way home.
Just what is going on here? More than 10 years ago I had this technology in my lab and it performed faultlessly. Integrated mechatronics would automatically scan your face, locate your eye, focus and take a picture. The electronic analysis was more or less instantaneous. So why all the fuss at Heathrow?
I would guess that in the airport system, because of price, the sophisticated mechatronics have either been simplified to near extinction or removed altogether. If it were present and effective customers would not be asked to move to the left, stand back etc. What a shame - for want of a few extra pounds a really good technology solution to airport security has been degraded to a joke.
Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.