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RFID to track airport passengers

A radio-tagging device has been developed that is intended to monitor air travellers' movements as they wait for their flights
Written by Gemma Simpson, Contributor

A new RFID tag has been designed and its inventors claim it could improve airport security by tracking passengers as they mingle in the departure lounge.

The plan is to issue every passenger with an RFID tag at check-in so human traffic can be monitored around the airport.

Dr Paul Brennan, electrical engineer at University College London, heads up the "Optag" project. He told ZDNet UK's sister site, silicon.com, that a prototype RFID tag will be tested in an airport in Hungary next month.

The exact date of an airport rollout of the technology is still unknown but Brennan said if the Hungarian trials are a success and someone takes on the tech, it could arrive in airports within two years.

Brennan said Optag has been designed to improve airport security, with the ability to track the movement of suspicious passengers and bar them from entering restricted areas.

The ability to locate individuals could also aid airports in an evacuation situation, he said, and in finding lost children and passengers who are late to the departure gate.

Optag is different from its RFID predecessors — standard RFID devices only have a range of a few centimetres but Optag has a range of 10 to 20m and can be located within a radius of 1m, Brennan said.

The Optag project is now nearing completion but there are still some sizeable hurdles to real-world implementation, including working out how to get the tags working in an airport and how to ensure people wear them, as well as allaying concerns over civil liberty infringements, said Brennan.

He added the device is "not intended to know who's doing what, although it might be that security needs to pinpoint certain individuals".

The design of the object set to carry the Optag is still not finalised. Brennan said RFID-tagged wristbands could be used but these can be taken off and swapped between individuals.

A possible option is to use cameras to scan the tag-wearer's face, to check it matches the person given the device, but these could only be used in certain areas of an airport, according to Brennan.

Brennan said the installation of the systems required to run Optag would also be very disruptive to existing airports — but with a new airport, or, for example, Heathrow's T5, installation could occur during construction.

The current tag does not store any data but might incorporate biometric data in the future, Brennan added.

Optag is primarily aimed at improving airport security but Brennan said "anywhere where a large number of people are, this has applications".

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