RFID chip to be tested on air passengers

17th Oct 2006 | 23:00

RFID chip to be tested on air passengers

EU trials radio surveillance

Airport security staff will be able to keep a close eye on airport passengers by tagging them with a high-powered RFID chip developed at the University College London .

The technology is due to be trialled in Debrecen Airport, Hungary after two and a half years in development at UCL as part of an EU-funded consortium, Optag . If successful, it could be introduced at airports within two years.

Dr Paul Brennan, of UCL's antennas and radar group, said the RFID tags developed by his team were far more advanced than any that had been used up until now, to label supermarket products, for example.

People will be told to wear radio tags round their necks when they enter the airport. The tag would notify a computer system of their identity and their location within the airport. The system would then track their activities using a network of high-definition cameras.

Multi-purpose

The tags would ensure that people under any suspicion would not be granted access to sensitive areas. They would also be helpful during an evacuation, and in finding children or other people that may have become separated from their families or friends.

Optag is primarily developed for airports but, Brennan says, the technology could be useful in other locations where a lot of people pass through.

"The tags have got a range of 10m to 20m," said Brennan. "The system has been designed so the tag can be located to within a metre, and it can locate thousands of tags in one area at a given time."

RFID tags can normally only transmit their presence to readers a few centimetres away, and their location is difficult to grasp.

2 million euros in funding

The project - called "Improving airport efficiency, security and passenger flow by enhanced passenger monitoring" - is using 2m euros (£1.3 million) of European funding to enable airports to herd people through the airport system.

Colin Brooks, Optag co-ordinator, said the trial would determine whether or not the tags would be feasible in the light of obvious potential problems. People might abandon their tags to avoid detection, for example, or swap them with another person.

Exactly how the RFID tags will be worn is not clear at this stage - the point is to make people wear their own tag and prevent the option of swapping it with someone else.

One solution might be to require people to use their tags to get through gates placed throughout the airport, and to combine this approach with CCTV footage and biometrics to make sure that the individual and the tag match, Brennan said.

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