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Artificial intelligence is revolutionizing airport security technology. AI is applied across the entire aviation spectrum, from self-service check-in robots to facial recognition checks at customs. Recent breakthroughs in neural networks – frameworks for machine learning algorithms that power AI – and high-capacity computer chips have allowed AI systems to flourish.


Crucially, AI systems improve as more and more information is fed into them. In the case of airport security, machine learning can be used to analyse data and identify threats faster than a human could. Items that previously needed to be scanned separately, such as laptops, can be kept in passenger luggage as they pass through security checkpoints.
Governments have been improving airport security with the new systems. The UK Government invested £1.8m into the development of new AI systems to boost security and alleviate wait times across some of the country’s busiest airports in 2018.
The US Transportation Security Administration has recently introduced new computed tomography (CT) scanners, which use AI to help target threats, at Los Angeles International Airport, John F. Kennedy and Phoenix airports.
One of the AI systems offered for airports is the Evolv Edge system developed by Evolv Technology. It uses a combination of camera, facial recognition and millimetre-wave technologies to scan people walking through a portable security gate. Machine learning techniques are used to automatically analyse data for threats, including explosives and firearms, while ignoring non-dangerous items – for example keys and belt buckles – passengers may be carrying.
All of this happens in about a hundredth of a second, meaning that passengers can simply walk through a gate, the company claims that up to 600 people can pass through the security gate in an hour, making it significantly faster than conventional X-ray scanners.
One increasingly visible security concept, which goes hand in glove with AI, is biometrics.
Tech specialist SITA reported that 77% of airports were planning major programs in biometric ID management over the next five years. A mainstay in this field is facial recognition, which is already being used to scan passengers as they pass through customs at a number of major airports, according to airport-technology.com.
Tests are also ongoing in behavioral biometrics. Researchers at the UK’s University of Manchester recently developed an AI system able to measure a human’s individual gait or walking pattern when they step on a pressure pad. “Each human has approximately 24 different factors and movements when walking, resulting in every individual person having a unique, singular walking pattern,” said Omar Costilla Reyes, a researcher from Manchester’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.
Elsewhere, the recently launched, EU-funded iBrderCtrl project involves the trial of an AI program to speed up border crossings. The solution consists of a virtual border guard asking passengers questions such as “What’s in your suitcase”, while a webcam analyses their facial expressions. If the passenger is deemed to be lying, further biometric information is taken before they are passed on to a human officer for review. Early testing of iBrderCtrl showed that it only had a 76% success rate, but one of the technology’s project coordinators told New Scientist that this could be bumped up to 85%.
The extent of resources required for implementing the new technologies, as well as privacy issues, still have to be taken into account.