The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) branch last Friday issued a call for proposals from start-up and other emerging high technology companies for help in identifying the identities of all travelers departing the U.S. by vehicles at its land ports using facial recognition.

The call was put out through S&T’s fast track acquisition mechanism, called Other Transaction Solicitation, under its Silicon Valley Innovation Program.DHS Logo DHS

“At land-based POEs (ports of entry), infrastructure is a key inhibitor to track the exit of travelers using biographic or biometric data,” DHS says in the Oct. 20 call. “In addition, the need for uninhibited vehicle traffic flow at land borders is perhaps the greatest challenge for land-border POEs. To avoid having travelers in vehicles stop at border crossings, which could create significant traffic delays, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is working to implement a face biometric entry-exit system in a way that poses the lead impact on travel and trade.”

The S&T Directorate initiated its outreach to high-tech startups nearly two years ago to tap into some of the country’s reservoir of novel capabilities and approaches to solving challenges. The OTS mechanism is seen as way to entice these firms to help the government by taking advantage of the rapid ability to award contracts that is a hallmark of this type of acquisition authority.

CBP has already done pilot evaluations of different of biometric modalities for pedestrians entering and exiting the land POE at Otay Mesa, Calif. Those evaluations demonstrated that facial recognition is a biometric that is comfortable and easy for most travellers to use. Now, CBP plans to soon begin another evaluation of facial recognition for biometric exit at a land POE.

For its evaluation of facial recognition of people departing from a land border by vehicle, CBP doesn’t want travelers to exit their vehicle.

Exit lanes for vehicles located at the land borders are not currently configured to support his requirement and are subject to extreme environmental factors, such as snow or intense heat depending on the location,” the call says. “CBP desires a stand-off face recognition capability designed to meet this requirement while also minimizing disruption of trade and travel.”

CBP is currently evaluating facial recognition technology and related operating concepts for travelers departing the U.S. aboard international flights from eight airports.