The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the coming weeks plans to expand field testing of facial matching technology it trialed this fall at an airport to allow a touchless experience for travelers and agency officers at a document checking station, an agency official said on Tuesday.
The evaluation of the Credential Authentication Technology-Camera (CAT-C) system at Reagan National Airport near Washington, D.C., showed that the facial comparison technology “is extremely accurate and it’s also very fast,” Austin Gould, assistant administrator for Requirements and Capabilities Analysis, said during a panel discussion at the annual American Association of Airport Executives (AAAE) Aviation Security Summit.
Gould also said that the use of the CAT-C system at the head of the PreCheck trusted traveler lane at the airport is voluntary yet “folks are opting in at a very, very high rate. So, I think we’ve learned that again, it’s accurate, it’s fast and there’s good buy in from the traveling public.”
Next up will be proof of concept evaluations at a “variety of airports” that will last several months to formally collect data on machine performance and accuracy rates related to different populations for analysis by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, Gould said during the event, which was held virtually. This will ensure that “no discernible error rates [are] associated with any particular demographic” and that match rates are acceptable, he said.
If all goes well, TSA will make a decision whether to move forward with CAT-C for further deployments, Gould said.
The expanded pilot effort is subject to the budget process, Gould said.
The CAT system is supplied by IDEMIA. The devices, which are being rolled out to TSA checkpoints at airports across the U.S., automatically verify the authenticity of passengers’ government-issued travel documents and simultaneously displays the vetting status of each traveler to the agency’s Travel Document Checker (TDC).
Equipped with the camera, the CAT-C removes the need for the document checker to visually match the traveler to his or her document by automating that process as well. Travelers who participate and have their photos matched by the device don’t have to hand their identity document to the TDC.
In the pilot at Reagan National, travelers insert their identification credential into the CAT-C device and stand in front of the camera for the live photo capture.
TSA was already moving to a more contactless experience at airport checkpoints for its officers and travelers before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but strains the virus has put on air travel has led the agency to attempt to accelerate its efforts around touchless travel.
TSA Administrator David Pekoske said during the AAAE event that PreCheck lanes at airports will be the first to be getting the new technologies for touchless travel.