Contactless system to clear immigration being tested at Tuas

Singaporean travellers at Tuas Checkpoint may no longer need to scan their passports to enter Singapore under a six-month trial. If successful, the facial and iris scanning system is expected to be implemented at other checkpoints.
The six-month trial of the contactless system will also test whether environmental factors, such as ambient lighting, at the checkpoint will affect the facial and iris matching.
The six-month trial of the contactless system will also test whether environmental factors, such as ambient lighting, at the checkpoint will affect the facial and iris matching.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

Facial and iris recognition speeds up clearance and may be rolled out elsewhere if successful

The use of passports or fingerprints to clear immigration could become a thing of the past for Singaporean travellers, with a trial under way at the Tuas Checkpoint that uses iris and facial images.

With the new contactless immigration clearance system, travellers with faded fingerprints or those burdened with shopping bags will find clearing immigration a breeze.

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) is conducting a six-month trial that began on April 8, and uses one of the automated arrival lanes in the immigration hall at Tuas Checkpoint.

Upon entering the automated lane, travellers will be prompted to look at the facial and iris scanning screen. The system will capture their facial and iris images and proceed to verify their identity.

A green tick on the screen indicates successful clearance, and the exit gate will open. This completes the immigration clearance process.

While the facial and iris scanning technology is not new and has been used in other places, including Australia and Hong Kong, Singapore is among the first countries to test this contactless immigration clearance system.

Besides testing the efficiency and accuracy of the facial and iris matching system, the trial is to assess the time taken for immigration clearance, said Superintendent Derrick Soong, 41, who is head of operations development at the ICA.

The trial will also test whether environmental factors, such as ambient lighting, at the checkpoint will affect the facial and iris matching, said Supt Soong.

"This clearance process will definitely be faster and bring convenience to travellers, as there is no need to present and scan passports," he said.

 
 

Supt Soong told The Straits Times that Singaporeans who use the contactless system can expect faster clearance.

About 300 Singaporeans have taken part in the trial at Tuas since it began. More than 400,000 travellers pass through Singapore's two land checkpoints a day, with some 280,000 using the Woodlands Checkpoint.

Singapore citizens aged six and above who have passport numbers beginning with the letter K and issued after Jan 1 last year will be eligible for the trial. No prior sign-up is required.

Supt Soong noted that the ICA had been collecting iris images from Singaporeans since 2017 and now has a "sizeable database" to conduct a meaningful trial. Iris images are more permanent than fingerprints, which can wear out over time or become faded.

Mr Faidzal Abdul Razak, 57, who lives in Johor Baru and enters Singapore for work daily, welcomed the new contactless system. Although he finds the new system is currently "a little slow", he expects that "as time goes on, it will be better".

Relating his experiences using the passport and fingerprint-scanning system, Mr Faidzal said he had faced difficulty clearing immigration and was asked to proceed to the manned counters - which took more time. He said he often had to press his thumb hard for clearance.

The ICA aims to roll out the contactless clearance system to the rest of the checkpoints if the trial is successful, said Supt Soong.

"Singaporeans who wish to participate in this trial should not wear any coloured, patterned contact lenses or have any wearables that will block their facial and iris images, as these will affect the trial results," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2019, with the headline 'Contactless system to clear immigration being tested at Tuas'. Print Edition | Subscribe