Biometrics tunnel to simplify security and ID checks

New airport and event security checks could be as easy as taking a few steps, as researchers at the University of Southampton are working to develop gait recognition systems for use in airports or at sporting events such as the Olympic Games.

Dr John Carter and Dr Mark Nixon have developed a tunnel - essentially a camera-lined corridor - which measures and processes biometric data such as gait, height and body shape as people walk through it.

"Human gait is to some level unique," said Carter. "This offers a degree of security without being invasive."

The four-metre tunnel, which takes about three to four paces to cross, is lined with 10 digital cameras that take measurements, record video and snap photos. From the collected information about stride cadence and length, body shape, height and movement, a 3D model is created.

The model is so detailed it allows the researchers to look at views, such as from the top down, which the cameras didn't actually see.

A still camera sits at the front, taking as many as 90 photos of the face, while side-mounted cameras take shots of the ears - both perfect for use with facial recognition technology. "You might think that's overkill, but recent face recognition research shows the more photos, the better the quality," said Carter.

While processing the 3D model currently takes about five minutes, eventually it will take just moments - as long as it takes for the next person to walk through the tunnel.

The tunnel system is ideal because it allows for fully-controlled conditions, including lighting and the rate at which people go through. "Everybody gets good results in the lab, but in real situations, results plummet," said Carter. As every aspect of the tunnel can be controlled, this system offers good quality data.

While the system is limited to looking at individuals, Carter said the system could be used to enhance airport security. Passengers would walk through the tunnel as they go through initial security checks and then again before boarding the plane to ensure the same person was getting on the plane. "It's looking to see if you'd seen that person before," said Carter.

Further research will take about two years, with another year to create a commercial product, said Carter. Such a time frame would make the gait tunnel an option for security at the London 2012 Olympics, where it could be used for security in athlete-only zones.

Carter said the system works, but it has only been tested on small numbers of people. The team is now looking to get funding to test as many as 3,000. "Probably students, because we can easily bribe them," Carter said. "We have every confidence, that at that level of testing, it's going to work."