NEC Corporation - Aviation Industry Eyes Touchless Tech To Spur Recovery

Tokyo, Japan--(Newsfile Corp. - September 20, 2021) - NEC Corporation (TSE: 6701) (OTC Pink: NIPNF) announces improved technology in response to COVID-19.

Touchless digital technologies including biometrics can help control coronavirus infections during international travel and accelerate a return to pre-pandemic traffic and business levels at airports around the world, a panel of air travel and technology experts said Thursday.

The aviation industry is poised for a slow but steady recovery after a challenging 2020, when revenue was only about 40 percent of the year before. Infection-control measures have allowed travelers to continue flying through the pandemic as airlines and airports adapted to the latest outbreaks, said members of the panel at NEC Visionary Week 2021. The event brings together thought leaders from around the world to share their insights on the future of society, discuss business issues that need to be tackled, as well as how to solve them.

Access with one look

Air hubs are deploying touchless technology to make the flight experience safe and seamless. It comes as airports are desperate to recover their business: like many hubs, Tokyo's Narita International Airport has been severely affected by the pandemic, with about 60% of its roughly 500 shops closed temporarily, 10% permanently and 30% under limited operations.

Ahead of the start of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in July, Narita launched Face Express. It's a biometric solution aimed at reducing lineups and enhancing infection safety measures. Passengers first scan their passport and boarding pass at a self-check-in station. The machine takes a photo of a passenger's face, which then acts as a passport and boarding pass, allowing passengers to drop off baggage and go through security and boarding gates without showing identification. It's designed to improve airport security, increase passenger convenience and give staff more time to serve travelers.

"We found that self-service and biometric technologies are very effective for the touchless process at the airport. It can prevent infections between passengers and staff as well," said Hideharu Miyamoto, executive director of Narita International Airport Corporation. "I think this technology is going to be very important when we restart international travel."

Safeguarding privacy

The face-recognition technology behind Face Express is part of a portfolio of advanced biometric authentication technologies that was developed by NEC with privacy and security in mind. The solutions provider was again ranked first in the world in August 2021 in a face recognition technology benchmarking test conducted by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology.

"Over 1,000 systems using the NEC digital platform have been implemented in more than 70 countries and regions around the world. It's used in wide-ranging fields such as immigration control, national identification and the check-in system for the entertainment industry," said panelist Norihiko Ishiguro, NEC Corporation senior executive vice president. "We improved the technology in response to the COVID-19 situation to recognize a face even with a mask on."

Indeed, NEC's tests have found that its improved engine had a high recognition accuracy, with a rate of over 99.9% even when masks were worn. NEC's technology has also been implemented at Frankfurt and Munich airports in Germany as part of a Star Alliance biometrics initiative. It comes amid a wider industry push for biometrics as a single solution for all passenger touchpoints during the airport experience.

"We've taken the opportunity to continue with our transformation process, particularly with digitalization and transformation," said panelist Jeffrey Goh, CEO of Star Alliance. "We've not let the crisis go to waste, but we innovate and drive better customer experience."

The panelists also discussed the road to recovery and what it will take for the industry to return to levels seen in 2019, before the pandemic began. Analysts at McKinsey have projected that will not happen before 2024 and that leisure travel will fuel the recovery, with business travel taking longer to recover.

Goh pointed out that some domestic industries have seen improving numbers and some countries have established corridors for vaccinated travelers. International organizations have yet to harmonize health policies, delaying the recovery, added Goh, who called for the consistent recognition of vaccines across borders.

"The key message we have been making is vaccinated travelers should not be subject to quarantine requirements," said Goh. "Technology has a role to play as to how we begin to find ways of removing restrictions and verifying your vaccination status and test results. How do we push these credentials to the passenger's booking record? Perhaps biometrics has a role to play."

Miyamoto joined the call for global standards and collaboration among stakeholders. In rolling out its new biometrics solution, it worked with Japan's Civil Aviation Bureau in a process to ensure that personal information and privacy are properly protected by Face Express. The measures include transparency of the biometric system, passenger consent to temporary record storage and the deletion of records 24 hours after a passenger flight has departed. In the Star Alliance solution, customers have the ability to manage if and when their encrypted data is used - for instance, they can opt out of the system when going to a particular destination.

Biometrics beyond airports

"Facial recognition technology has a very high potential, not only within airports and improving customers' journey," said Miyamoto. "It could also be used in shopping, hotel check-in, joining events or taking ground transportation…There are many places that need health certification."

NEC is currently exploring the possibilities of biometrics in its Nanki Shirahama IoT Hospitality Trial. Users who register their face photo and credit card can benefit from touchless, cashless procedures at the Nanki Shirahama Airport in Wakayama Prefecture as well as theme park, hotels and shops. People can enjoy the resort's famous beach without having to bother with bringing a wallet if they want to buy something.

"As 5G becomes more common, we hope to deliver a truly seamless customer experience in the very near future and contribute to creating new customer value and business opportunities," Ishiguro said.

The panelists closed the session by emphasizing the need to transform the industry amid the pandemic lull in traffic so that passengers will be protected when travel resumes.

"There are still many miles on the runway," said Goh. "I think the potential for biometrics is immense."

On-demand viewing is available from the official NEC Visionary Week 2021 event website until 2021.10.30 (JST)

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NEC Visionary Week 2021

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NEC Visionary Week 2021, Mr. Hideharu Miyamoto

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NEC Visionary Week 2021, Mr. Jeffrey Goh

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