October 13, 2006 12:24 PM PDT

New RFID tech would track airport passengers

The inventors of a new monitoring system that uses RFID tags claim it could improve airport security by tracking passengers as they mingle in the departure lounge.

The plan is to issue an RFID (radio frequency identification) tag to every passenger at check-in so human traffic can be monitored throughout the airport via transponders and video cameras.

Paul Brennan, an electrical engineer at University College London, heads the project, which features an RFID technology called Optag. Funded by the European Union, the technology is being developed by a consortium of European companies and the university. Brennan told Silicon.com that a prototype RFID tag will be tested in an airport in Hungary next month.

Brennan said that if the trials in Hungary are a success and the technology attracts customers, it could arrive in airports within two years.

Brennan said Optag has been designed to improve airport security by virtue of its ability to track the movement of suspicious passengers, which would enable security personnel to bar them from entering restricted areas.

The ability to locate individuals could also aid airports in an evacuation situation, he said, and in finding lost children and passengers who are late to the departure gate.

Optag's big range, big challenges
Optag is different from its RFID predecessors in that standard RFID devices have a range of only a few centimeters. Optag, by contrast, has a range of 10 to 20 meters, and its wearer can be located within a radius of 1 meter, Brennan said.

The Optag project is now nearing completion but there are still some sizeable hurdles to real-world implementation, such as figuring out how to get the tags to operate properly in an airport, developing a system that ensures people will wear them, and allaying concerns over civil liberty infringements, said Brennan.

He added the device is "not intended to know who's doing what, although it might be that security needs to pinpoint certain individuals."

The design of the device that would contain the Optag is still not finalized. Brennan said RFID-tagged wristbands could be used but noted that they can be taken off and swapped between individuals.

A possible option is to use cameras to scan the tag-wearer's face and verify that it matches the correct Optag ID, but such a system could be used only in certain areas of an airport, according to Brennan.

Brennan said installation of the systems required to run Optag would also be very disruptive to existing airports. Installation could occur easily, however, at airports under construction, such Heathrow's T5.

As currently configured, the tag does not store any data but might incorporate biometric data in the future, Brennan added.

Optag is primarily aimed at improving airport security, but Brennan said "anywhere where a large number of people are, this has applications."

Gemma Simpson of Silicon.com reported from London.

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Does anyone else think that the spaceport scene from the movie The Fifth Element, could be a reality soon?
Would it make you feel safe and secure?
Posted by Marcus Westrup (630 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What a big waste of time, money and effort, for if it can be read, it can be cloned , cloaked or destroyed with simplest of technology most of which is sold and readily available over the counter at the airport anyway!

But then again, in an extremely popular book written way back in 1968 by Dr Laurence J Peters said it all!

Oh well, such is life to be lead astray with illusions of safety , by the dumb , dumber and dumbest , of which all ardent adherent followers of the "Peter Principle"!
Posted by heystoopid (691 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Other related apps for the same/related tech
Posted by RememberEZ (45 comments )
Reply Link Flag
These tags will one day be implanted in us.
sure it has its upside but the downside will outweigh the positive.

Posted by itsallj (19 comments )
Reply Link Flag
None of this so-called security tech makes me feel safe. In fact, it scares the hell out of me to think of all the ways that governments want to track us. And the really scary part is that there seems to be no end in sight. The comment in the previous post was dead on, next step is implants. And the worst part is that if someone is determined enough to commit a terrorist act, they're going to figure out a way to do it, no matter what kind of "security" measures are in place.
Posted by anomalator (83 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The Luggage needs RFID, not the Passengers..!!
RFID for terrorist..??? How stupid is that..!! We all know after they
got thier boarding pass they went to the plane..!! Plans and
equipment for a terrorist attack were done in advance of getting
the boarding pass, NOT AFTER..!!!
quote: "it could improve airport security by tracking passengers
as they mingle in the departure lounge."
RED ALERT..! RED ALERT..!! A passenger has gone to the toilet
for a second time..!!!! Call in the SWAT Team..!!!!!!
Obviously someone wants to make big money off of some really
naive airport officials. Now if they REALLY want to put RFID to
good use in airports then put it on the LUGGAGE...!!!!!!!
Posted by imacpwr (456 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Won't work...
If the bad guys know that they'll be monitored... they'll do everything possible to get rid of the RFID tag which they're carrying.

Whether that be passing it off to somebody else, trashing it and/or using another RFID, etc.

It's going to be difficult at best.

Posted by wbenton (522 comments )
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Another Great No-bid Contract
This will be just another great example of gooberment corporate welfare in the form of a multi-million dollar no-bid contract. Meanwhile, back in the real world, we just had a small single engine plane say hello to a high rise apartment building in Manhattan.

The West is still trying to fight this new war with the bad guys like it was the cold war -- big, expensive, complex, multi-year, military-industrial style projects. The bad guys however, are waging the fight like a street war -- simple, cheap, quick, high-impact. They go for the soft underbelly. If the front door is steel reenforced, double locked, they will go for the back door. Until we get some leadership that understands this and makes rationale decisions about civilian defense, we will merely have a false sense of security at a very high cost.
Posted by CancerMan2 (74 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Foiled Again!!!
A simple piece of aluminum foil is sufficient to negate the RF in an RFID...

The government is smart enough to know they can't get people to implant these things into themselves. They would be much more successful at getting people to carry around a GPS device everywhere they went. They could even disguise it as some sort of personal communication device that will also hold 10,000 of your favorite songs.
Posted by jwarren.carroll (84 comments )
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