Biometrics, or the measuring of physical characteristics as metrics (or for use as identification), used to be the stuff of spy movies. But over the past couple of years, biometrics have become mainstream – take wearable technology like the Fitbit or Jawbone, predictive biometrics in medicine, or all those mobile apps that use your phone to measure your activity level, your sleep cycles, and more.

And you’ve almost certainly heard of another, more controversial biometric: facial recognition technology. This was a huge topic among those concerned with digital privacy when Facebook announced that it would start employing the tech a couple of years back, in order to suggest tags for user photos. In fact, now Facebook’s facial recognition API is so good that it doesn’t even need to see your face to figure out who you are, according to Business Insider.

Plenty of privacy advocates, as well as many of your average concerned citizens, are still up in arms about the idea of a computer system being able to recognize you from a photo or video. But, like it or not, it’s almost certain that the technology is here to stay. And along with any privacy or security concerns, one has to admit there are perks to the widespread use of biometrics.

One area that could be seeing major changes as a result of biometrics is airline travel. Alaska Airlines, for example, tried out a pilot program last summer that had some of their frequent fliers swipe their finger across a tablet in order to get on their planes. The airline had tried it previously to grant access to its exclusive lounges, and according to the airline, customers were very happy with the service.

Completely replacing boarding passes, whether digital or physical, with simple finger swipes may be quite a while away – if it ever happens – but airports and government travel agencies are already using biometrics in several other ways.

Digital passports

After 9/11, passports went from being simple paper booklets to digitally-enhanced documents. You might not be aware of it, but your passport – assuming you got it within the last 14 years or so – includes an electronic chip that holds a digital photo of you as well as descriptive data. Other countries have begun including digital fingerprints and/or digital signatures in their passports as well.

The idea behind digital passports is, of course, to increase security and make it harder to falsify travel documents. As biometric technology continues to evolve continues to evolve, we can expect to see inclusion of even more information – iris recognition, for example – in our digital passports.

Immigration and border crossing procedures

One of Brazil’s largest airports, Viracopos International Airport in Campinas, Sao Paulo, has just launched new biometric, self-service gates called Automated Border Control (ABC) eGates.

The ABC gates use facial recognition technology to identify passengers, capturing an image of each person who walks through and comparing it to the digital photo stored on their passport’s chip. If the two match, then the person can proceed through Immigration or Emigration without having to interact with customs officers.

To use it, passengers must hold a Brazilian digital passport and be at least 18 years old.

Some European countries have also initiated the use of facial recognition and fingerprint recognition systems for people crossing through their borders. The program is called Smart Borders, and it may be expanded to include iris recognition as well in the coming years.

Potential for entertainment and payments

You know how Netflix remembers where you left off in a movie or TV series once you start watching again? The future of biometrics could make that possible for airline passengers, too. According to a study by the company Tascent, in-flight entertainment is one possible area in which biometrics could be used.

The idea is that a passenger with two or more legs of travel could watch part of a movie on the first flight. Then on the second flight, she could log in with her fingerprint or other biometric data to pick up right where she left off. Passengers might even be able to access their in-flight entertainment options via their mobile devices.

Biometrics could also make it easier to pay for premium food and drinks on flights or in lounges, or take care of customs and immigration procedures while on one’s flight.

Security risks

Just as there are security benefits to be had from the use of biometric data, there are also certain risks associated with it. For example, what do you do if a hacker steal your fingerprints? It’s not as if you can change them, like you can a password. These are issues that are still being figured out, which is why we can all expect to be using standard methods of identification in addition to biometrics for a while yet.

Pivot has worked on biometric devices including iris recognition technology and a mobile ID management computer. If you’ve got a biometric product you need help developing, contact us for a free consultation!