The brave new world of biometric identification and passport-less travel has arrived.

Just when you thought the rapid pace at which technology is altering the way we go about our daily lives couldn’t gain any more velocity, something brand-new and exciting comes along.

Case in point – Sydney Airport is currently running a facial recognition programme that allows passengers to enjoy smooth sailing through their airport gates without the need to take out their passport even once.

If this innovative system succeeds, there will soon be no need for international travellers to juggle paperwork and luggage at the airport – their faces will serve as both their passport and boarding pass while they check in, drop their bags, access the airport lounge and board their plane.

Sound a little too futuristic to be true? Just wait until you hear the rest.

Consumer demands drive technological development

Marius Coetzee, CEO of Ideco, a South African company with a focus on future-proof smart identification solutions, believes that biometric technology is developing in accordance with consumer demands.

“As consumers, we are used to the convenience of a mobile lifestyle. These days, the prevalence of technology has taught us to expect seamless engagement – we order rides and food, book accommodation and organise our social lives from our smart phones without skipping a beat, but when we get to the airport or bank it feels like we’ve stepped back in time. Fortunately, biometric recognition solutions are now available that will allow consumer-facing businesses to provide their clientele with effortless identification processes,” says Marius.

Countless applications for biometric tech

The field of biometrics includes fingerprint, voice, facial and iris identification and there are countless applications for each of these components. This includes everything from access control in secure environments to crowd management at big sporting events.

“There are so many ways in which biometrics can be applied to streamline the way we do things,” says Marius. “In the mining environment, for instance, a facial recognition feed can be used to identify everyone who enters a secure area and raise a red flag if an unauthorised individual steps foot inside an of a limit perimeter. In banking, on the other hand, it can be used to alert relationship managers if VIP clients enter their branch, so they may be of immediate assistance. Event organisers at big stadiums and outdoor venues can also pre-load the biometric information of known troublemakers on their database so they may be alerted if they attend, and their security team may prepare accordingly.”

How does facial recognition work?

It’s highly specialised software that is overlaid on conventional surveillance footage, which allows the programme to isolate the face from the footage, extract the unique features of the face, feed it into a matching engine and determine the identity of the individual in question.

Biometric information has two sides:

There is the actual photo or fingerprint, and then there is the algorithm that allows the technology to match it to others on a given database.

As such, when you enrol in a biometric system (e.g. scanning your fingerprints at the bank), the information that is captured and stored is not the actual image or imprints, but rather the algorithm that will be used for matching purposes down the line.

What is the next frontier for South Africa?

With Australia blazing the trail in terms of biometric check-ins at Sydney Airport, it raises the question as to what we might expect here in sunny South Africa.

According to Marius, the onus lies with the big business. “The technology is there, and we have the skills resources at our disposal to implement it. We just need a few innovative South African businesses to step up to the plate and take advantage of the incredible tools at their disposal.”