Asia Business Channel

Japanese airports introduce facial recognition systems for “Foreign Visitors”

Facial recognition systems in use at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport.

It’s a technology system that has already been tested using Japanese citizens, and now facial recognition systems will be used on foreign visitors when they are leaving Japan.

Japanese immigration authorities announced this week that automatic gates using facial recognition systems will be implemented at a number of airports in Japan for short-term overseas visitors departing the country. The gates will come into use on July 24 at Tokyo's Haneda airport and later this year at the Narita, Kansai, Fukuoka, Chubu and Chitose airports.

Their introduction of the facial recognition exit gates is part of the efforts by Japanese airport and immigration authorities to deal with the large inflow of foreign travelers to Japan who will be attending the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The facial recognition system uses the identification photo that is stored in the IC chip of a traveler's passport. The passport photo will be scanned and compared to a photograph taken at the gate, which will then open if the two images match.

Japanese citizens using facial recognition systems at Tokyo’s Haneda airport

The number of foreign tourists arriving in Japan has increased dramatically in recent years often resulting in long lines at immigration counters in arrival and departure areas. Survey’s of travelers show list passport control as the major airport choke point for travellers both leaving and entering the country and the government hopes that the new technology will allow immigration to shift its officers from departure halls to the crowded arrival halls.

Facial recognition gates were introduced at Haneda airport for incoming Japanese travelers in October 2017. As well as Haneda, they are now also in use for Japanese nationals at the Narita, Chubu, Kansai and Fukuoka airports.

Narita will implement the gates for outgoing foreign visitors in August, Kansai in September, Fukuoka in October, Chubu and Chitose in November, and Naha Airport in Okinawa Prefecture by next July.

Recently NEC Corp. gave a demonstration of its OneID facial recognition system that allows passengers to board planes faster without having to present passports or boarding passes. In its presentation, NEC showed how the system streamlined the boarding procedure.

First, at the self check-in machine, passenger consent was obtained, then their passport was scanned and a barcode on their smartphone screen provided the flight details. A camera was used to capture their facial image during the process. The data was then linked together and stored in an authentication system.

The system also allows passengers to drop off their baggage at an automated check-in terminal equipped with a facial recognition camera, by comparing their face with the data held on record. Passengers can enter the area for safety inspections and walk through the boarding gates without needing to stop for a passport or boarding pass to be checked.

A Japanese airport “helper” robot being tested at Haneda Airport 

In anticipation of a large number of foreign visitors attending the Olympics in 2020, airport authorities view enhancing their operational efficiency as one of their primary challenges and they believe that the speed of the entire immigration process could be 50% to 100% faster than it currently is.

A kimono-clad Japanese humanoid robot being tested at one of the country’s airports

Japanese robots on wheels being tested at Haneda Airport in Tokyo

In addition to facial recognition technologies, Haneda Airport has also being testing a variety of robots, including ones that roller-skating and speak Japanese, English, Chinese and Korean to help passengers and cut down on the number of human staff needed in airport operations. Haneda airport authorities say that visitors can expect to see a variety of robot helpers available at the airport to help them with their communications and information needs.



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