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Singapore may use facial recognition in Changi

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Passengers walk towards their departure gates in the newly opened Terminal 3 at Singapore's Changi Airport January 9, 2008. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Ever been delayed on a flight because of straggling fellow passengers?

That might be an annoyance of the past at Singapore’s Changi airport which is testing facial recognition systems that could, in future, help locate lost travellers or those spending a little too much time in the duty-free shops.

Changi Airport, ranked the world’s best for six years straight in a survey by air travel consultancy Skytrax, is looking at how it can use the latest technologies to solve problems – from cutting taxiing times on the runway to quicker predictions of flight arrivals.

It comes as the island state embarks on a ‘smart nation’ initiative to utilise technology to improve lives, create economic opportunity and build community ties. However the proposed use of cameras mounted on lampposts that are linked to facial recognition software has raised privacy concerns.

Steve Lee, Changi Airport Group’s chief information officer, told Reuters that the airport’s experiments are not from a “big brother” perspective but solve real problems.

“We have lots of reports of lost passengers … so one possible use case we can think of is, we need to detect and find people who are on the flight. Of course, with permission from the airlines,” said Mr Lee.

Facial recognition technology typically allows users to match the faces of people picked up on cameras with those in databases.

Mr Lee said they have tested technology that could allow for this, and are working with various businesses, adding that they should have some capability to do this in a year’s time.

While he declined to provide names of the firms involved, France’s Idemia, previously known as OT-Morpho, has previously provided some facial recognition technology to Changi.

Chinese firm Yitu, which recently opened its first international office in Singapore, told Reuters it was in discussions with Changi Airport Group. Yitu says its facial recognition platform is capable of identifying more than 1.8 billion faces in less than three seconds.

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