Four Ways Biometrics Are Making Travel Smarter

In this series we’re taking an in-depth look at Biometrics and the impact this technology is having in the travel sector.

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Biometric Check-in (Photo: Shutterstock)

Using the ability to identify someone based on unique personal characteristics is becoming common. But the applications and opportunities continue to evolve at remarkable speed. Here are just a few examples:

Doing away with documentation

In the last post we looked at airports using biometric tech to identify travellers. Typically this is with fingerprint, facial or iris recognition and it speeds up passenger journeys through checkpoints like passport control or boarding gates by up to 40%. It’s not just airports, though. In China, Marriott Hotels are trialling facial recognition for check in. Guests in Hangzhou and Sanya scan their IDs, have a photo taken and input some details into an automated system. Their booking is then confirmed and room keys automatically dispensed, cutting check in time from three minutes to one.

The cruise sector is using similar technology. Royal Caribbean found that using facial recognition reduced processing time for disembarking passengers in the USA by 40% in a trial last year. Where as previously they had passports checked by a Customs and Borders Official, passengers simply looked into a camera which checked their facial characteristics with the US Traveller Verification Service database.

In the newest use of this tech, Hertz is running a trial in the USA at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport allowing customers to use fingerprint or facial recognition to pick up pre-booked hire cars. It will be rolled out to around 40 other locations next year including LAX, San Francisco and New York JFK airports.

Keeping track of staff

Biometrics are playing an important role in managing staff in many industries, including the travel sector. Ensuring appropriate staffing levels to meet customer needs is vitally important in a service-orientated industry like hotels where large numbers of contract and casual staff are often employed. At one location in the UK, hotel staff now clock into work using biometric fingerprint terminals. This provides management with far more accurate staff attendance data and it’s in real time. This makes HR and payroll processes more efficient and keeps costs down for customers as a result. It speeds up clocking in for employees too avoiding queues at the start of shifts. The UK’s Yotel hotel brand uses the same system at three of its airport hotels. These kinds of applications of biometrics are being widely adopted across many industries.

Keeping things safe and secure

Biometrics are filtering down to applications that are more personal as well. We’re all used to using fingerprint and face recognition to unlock smartphones.

Setting off on a road trip might well involve using your fingerprint rather than a key or fob in the near future. Numerous vehicle manufacturers are experimenting with replacing keys with biometric readers. Nissan is just one example. Many brands currently use a fob that transmits a wireless signal to the car’s locking system for easy unlocking. But these systems are surprisingly easy to trick — sometimes in as little as 30 seconds .

Biometric identification will make cars more secure — starter buttons that use fingerprint recognition are already on the way. This isn’t just about starting the car either, one tech company’s new EasyOpen system allows you to unlock your car by taking a selfie on your smartphone.

Making it all more personal

Couple biometric recognition with data about your preferences and your car can automatically set the seat pitch, temperature and other driving settings specifically for you. These greater levels of personalisation driven by the ability of biometric tech to identify us have all sorts of applications for the travel sector. Hotel rooms can set themselves to your preferred temperature, airline meals or drinks can be pre-ordered. This of course requires the user to configure things or state preferences beforehand.

But the next level of biometric personalisation will use AI and biometric indicators like heart rate and blink rate to adjust technology to suit our particular state at the time. Hyundai has developed a system to monitor drivers for signs of drowsiness.

A camera monitors the driver’s eye movements whilst an AI system watches for signs of erratic driving. If the driver shows signs of falling asleep the car can switch to autonomous mode and pull over safely. This tech could revolutionise safety for public transport like buses and trains.

Or how about using biometrics to assess our reactions to particular stimuli to help us make decisions? Accor Hotels has developed a new program called Seeker. Using your smartphone camera and a webcam Seeker assesses your response to stimuli like images and sounds to determine the kind of travel experiences you’ll find most appealing. It uses six different metrics to building a psychological profile of you and matches that to types of holiday. Kiosks with headbands to monitor brain waves and wrist bands to monitor heart rate and skin response which give more in-depth profiles are being trialled at several of their hotels.

This is the third in our series about the impact of Biometrics on the travel sector. In the next post we’ll be looking at some of the challenges associated with this remarkable technology.

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