The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in the coming year plans to conduct more evaluations of facial recognition systems at aviation security checkpoints and baggage drops as it proceeds toward potential deployment of the technology in the coming years.

TSA officers at the checkpoints manually verify the authenticity of identification documents, that passengers match their IDs, check their vetting status, have a flight reservation, resolve anomalies and “they don’t like it,” Melissa Conley, senior adviser for TSA’s Requirements and Capabilities office, said last week. “They would like technology to help them out and so what we’ve laid out are incremental improvements to automate this function for them and that’s what we’re really focused on.”

The agency recently completed a proof-of-concept pilot at a checkpoint at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas that involved setting up a camera station just in front of the TSA Travel Document Checker, who was equipped with the agency’s new credential authentication technology (CAT) device. The camera was used to photograph passengers who volunteered and compared the captured image to the image on the traveler’s identity document.

TSA plans to advance the CAT biometric pilot with two new phases.

Conley said the CAT with Camera (CAT-C) Phase I pilot involved data collection to make sure the camera works, if the graphical user interface (GUI) was right, if passengers had an understanding of the technology, and assess performance. In the second phase, which TSA hopes to begin at an airport in the second quarter of fiscal year 2020, program officials plan to offer a more flexible, modular and commercial-off-the shelf cameras, change the GUI to make it easier for passengers to understand as they approach the unit, and establish the final configuration for its security officers to assist in a 1-to-1 facial matching capability.

In a third phase of CAT-C, tentatively scheduled for the first quarter of fiscal year 2021, the evaluation will automate the Travel Document Checker functions by taking “the guts of the CAT system” and put them into an electronic-gate solution that passengers will pass through without manual intervention from a Transportation Security Officer, Conley said at the American Association of Airport Executive’s annual aviation security conference.

The e-gate will essentially be a “self-service gate” that will enable the Travel Document Checker to focus on identity resolution issues, she said.

TSA also plans to build off biometric evaluations it has been doing with Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the Department of Homeland Security agency leading the way on the use of facial recognition technology to track foreign nationals and most U.S. citizens arriving and departing the U.S. by air. U.S. citizens have the option to opt-out of the facial recognition procedures managed by CBP at airports.

TSA is leveraging CBP’s Traveler Verification System, which includes small galleries of photos of travelers arriving to and departing from the U.S. on international flights. For CBP’s purposes, the gallery sizes are relatively small for live photos captured at departure gates to be compared against as they correspond to flight manifests. For TSA, the gallery sizes will have to be in the thousands of images as the agency can’t separate travelers at checkpoints by specific flights.

For the next round of one-to-many evaluations, TSA hopes to begin the pilot in the first quarter of fiscal year 2021 with the PreCheck trusted traveler population at an airport and integrate passengers’ data and the agency’s Secure Flight watchlist data into CBP’s TVS system, Conley said.

With states issuing mobile driver’s licenses to people’s smart phones, TSA wants to be able to accommodate this population to speed processing at the front of its security checkpoints. Conley said the agency is working with its CAT vendor, IDEMIA, to develop a reader that will be attached to the CAT system to process the data that comes off the mobile license. Eventually, she said, “we can get to a biometric solution there as well.”

About a year ago, TSA released a Biometrics Roadmap with four goals, the first being to partner with CBP on biometrics for international travelers. The second goal is to operationalize biometrics for its PreCheck population and the third goal is to expand the use of biometrics for domestic travelers. The final goal is to develop the infrastructure that supports its biometric solutions.