Dubai wants to introduce some peace and calm in airport security by taking away facial recognition booths and replacing them with a virtual aquarium.
Navigating your way through airport security is rarely a trouble-free, relaxing event. Steely-eyed customs officers, form after form to fill out, visas, questioning, the removal of clothing and emptying out your bags -- not to mention occasional panicked rushes between connections and long queues -- the security circus can be incredibly stressful.
While new technologies such as e-gates and facial recognition are intended to cut waiting times and make the experience a touch easier, Dubai wants to go further by making security checks seem like anything but.
If I'm having a stressful day, spending 20 minutes gazing at my home aquarium does wonders. There's something about watching aquatic animals and fish which is relaxing, and Dubai's new alternative to counters and e-gates leverages this concept.
Instead of staring straight-ahead, eyes watering, as a security officer checks your features against your passport photo, the aquarium will contain hidden cameras that scan either your face or irises.
Roughly 80 cameras will be hidden among the fish and corals to build a picture of a passenger walking through while giving them a break from black-and-white security procedures.
According to the publication, the tunnel can also be set to a number of different environments, or be used to display ads.
Should the passenger check out, they will be given the green light to move forward and a message of greeting. However, if something has gone wrong, a red sign will warn officers to interfere.
"The fish is a sort of entertainment and something new for the traveler but, at the end of the day, it attracts the vision of the travelers to different corners in the tunnel for the cameras to capture his [or] her face print," said Major Gen Obaid Al Hameeri, deputy director general of Dubai Residency and Foreign Affairs. "The virtual images are of very high quality and gives a simulation of a real-life aquarium."
The so-called "virtual borders" will be installed by the end of summer 2018 at the airport's Terminal 3. Should the trial prove successful, a rollout will begin at other terminals.
Using a virtual aquarium may seem like an odd concept, but it is the result of 18 months of brainstorming by Dubai officials.
The airport expects to cater to passenger numbers of up to 180 million in the next few years, and cutting down security clearance time has become a top priority.
"We have been working for about four years to transform the procedure from the traditional counter and in the future we will not need the counter at all," says Hameeri. "This will also benefit stakeholders; now the traveler can spend more time shopping at duty-free, or avoid missing their flight due to long queues."
This is not the only recent innovation taking place at the Dubai International Airport. A new kind of security counter, called the Smart Gate, has been launched by the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs (GDRFA) in the hopes of eradicating the need for travel documents altogether.
It is hoped that departure and arrival checks can be done in less than 15 seconds, thanks to the mobile Smart UAE Wallet, which will hold all necessary travel details on smartphones or tablets.