Despite a series of technical hiccups, the first public trials of Australia's AU$62 million biometric SmartGate project are set to take place in Brisbane in August, six months behind schedule.
In development since 2002, SmartGates use facial recognition technology to verify the identity of travellers by comparing a scan of their face with a facial scan encoded in the microchip contained within the newly launched ePassport.
While facial scan technology has been successfully trialled in Sydney and Melbourne airports, with Qantas staff and a select group of frequent flyers, integrating the ePassport readers and extending the technology to all travellers has proved more challenging.
Speaking at the Biometric Institute Australia's annual conference, project leader Strategic Development for Australian Customs, Gillian Savage, attributed the delays to unforeseen integration issues.
"We've had the booths and gates in place since the end of February, but through the testing we discovered a whole range of issues around hardware and software," explained Ms Savage. "The biometric component of the gates is working well, it's other issues that are holding us back."
According to Savage, the challenges largely arose due to the dual process design of the SmartGate system. This requires travellers to first submit their ePassport to a kiosk, where the passport information is scanned and an exit ticket issued. Passengers then proceed to the actual SmartGate, submit the ticket, and have their biometric tested against that contained in the ePassport.
"We have three kiosks and two gates, and a lot of the challenges come from transferring information between those sites," Savage said. "We also need to make sure the technology will work for real travellers who might be tired, or might somehow damage their tickets before they get to the gates."
If successful the public trials in Brisbane will be followed by the launch of the technology in Sydney and Melbourne airports, also set for August 2007. Participants of the current SmartGate trial, which has been running since 2002, will need to update their ePassports in order to continue to use the self-processing facilities.
"Initially the SmartGates will only be able to process Australian ePassport holders, however then we will open the service up to New Zealand ePassport holders as soon as possible after that," Savage said. "Other ePassport holders beyond that will require foreign language support, but the SmartGate program will ultimately be open to all eligible ePassports from around the world."