- The Washington Times - Friday, July 27, 2001

A McLean company said yesterday it will be the first to introduce a high-tech method to shuttle passengers through crowded airports in the blink of an eye.

EyeTicket Corp. will install an iris-recognition reader this year in London's Heathrow Airport, the busiest international airport in the world.

The company is negotiating to put the system in other airports as early as next year. Biometrics or computer technology that identifies people based on information such as fingerprints or facial features has the potential to speed passenger check-in, a slow process that may not improve anytime soon. An estimated 1 billion people will fly annually within 10 years, according the Federal Aviation Administration.

"Our point is to eliminate the queue," said Stewart Mann, EyeTicket's chief executive.

EyeTicket, a small, privately held company, will install cameras in two terminals in Heathrow, probably by October, for a six-month trial. Only North American passengers traveling to Heathrow on British Airways or Virgin Atlantic flights will be able to enroll in the program, which is a fast identification-verification method.

Passengers on British Airways and Virgin Atlantic direct flights from Washington Dulles International Airport and from airports in Chicago, New York, Boston, Miami, Los Angeles, Detroit, Seattle, Philadelphia and San Francisco are eligible to participate in the limited trial.

The cameras will be placed in terminals three and four in Heathrow, at its immigration checkpoints.

Once passengers enroll, they won't have to stop at British Immigration Service checkpoints. Instead, they will have their identity verified when they have their iris matched against a photograph in a database, a process that takes about 2 seconds.

That is possible after EyeTicket takes a black-and-white photograph of a passenger's iris. Glasses and contact lenses, including colored lenses, don't complicate the process. And while a retina may change over time, the iris does not. The iris is different, even among twins, and is more unique than a fingerprint. A fingerprint has 70 characteristics, while an iris has an estimated 270 features.

EyeTicket digitizes the image and stores it as a 512-byte file on its computers. To protect a person's identity, only the name and airline information is collected.

The company spent about $3 million developing the technology.

Mr. Mann said the company won't share personal data.

"We never would share this data with anyone," he said. "The privacy concerns are valid."

EyeTicket officials hope to sign up 2,000 frequent flyers to participate in the program.

EyeTicket, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, the British Immigration Service, and the Customs and Excise Department will share the cost of the Heathrow program. They all are affiliated through the International Air Transport Association's simplified passenger travel program, which is studying ways to streamline passenger travel.

EyeTicket's plan to speed the passage of international travelers through Heathrow's immigration checkpoint is just one use of iris-recognition technology.

Mr. Mann said the company's hope is that airports and airlines adopt iris recognition for other applications, too.

"We hope we can make a significant market penetration in 2002," he said.

US Airways pilots at Charlotte/ Douglas International Airport in North Carolina have used equipment developed by EyeTicket since May 2000 to gain entry to restricted areas. The technology prevents piggybacking or tailgating dashing through an door opened by an airport or airline employee to gain access to a restricted area.

The Airports Council International supports widespread use of the technology by airport workers to improve security, and it counts iris recognition as among the most secure methods to restrict access.

"The most secure system is the best system, as long as it's not cost prohibitive," Airports Council International-North America Vice President Bonnie Wilson said.

Iris recognition also can be used for passenger check-in, boarding, baggage check and baggage claim, Mr. Mann said.

Still, persuading airports and airlines to embrace the technology could take time.

"We view this as an entry to passenger processing," he said. "This is an industry that is large and that typically changes slowly. You can't shove this down anyone's throat."

The Heathrow project will be a significant step toward showing biometrics to the public because few people have had exposure to the technology.

"The migration of biometric applications into airports will be key to the industry," said Richard Norton, executive director of the District-based International Biometric Industry Association.

The patent on iris-scanning technology is held by Iridian Technologies, in Marlton, N.J. EyeTicket received a patent last year that covers its method of ticketing and checking in airport passengers.

Iris recognition isn't the only biometric method to identify people. EyeTicket is in a competition with companies marketing technology to do fingerprint scanning, face recognition, hand geometry and retina scanning.

Little biometric equipment has been installed in airports since 1994, when the Immigration and Naturalization Service began INSPASS. That program relies on hand geometry it "reads" the shape and mass of a person's hand to identify international travelers who enroll in the program to get through U.S. airports, including Dulles, faster.

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