Changi Airport trials AI to speed up security checks, could cut wait times by half

The rain vortex in Jewel Changi Airport. Photo: Unsplash
The rain vortex in Jewel Changi Airport. Photo: Unsplash

Brace yourselves, travelers! Security checks at Changi Airport could be revolutionized with a new trial that promises to make the screening process up to 50 percent quicker for passengers departing from Terminal 3.

Changi Airport Group (CAG) is currently testing an innovative system utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to automatically detect prohibited items in carry-on luggage. The system, known as the Automated Prohibited Items Detection System (Apids), aims to streamline security checks by reducing the time needed to process images from X-ray machines and minimizing the risk of human error.

According to CAG, the initial results of the trial have been promising, with Apids performing as well as, or even better than, human security screeners in flagging prohibited items such as insecticides, cigarette lighters, and sharp objects like pocket knives.

The AI-powered system is currently in its early stages and is being used to assist security officers by highlighting potential threats in scanned images. The long-term goal is to increase automation, allowing security officers to manually review only the bags flagged by the system, similar to the process for checked baggage.

“As the technology matures, Changi will decide whether to expand its use across the airport,” stated CAG in its November issue of Changi Journeys. The potential expansion is expected to further improve clearance speed by up to 50 percent and optimize manpower resources for redeployment to other areas.

Airport World reports that AI algorithms can screen X-ray images up to five times faster than human operators, and similar trials are underway in countries such as China, the Netherlands, and the US.

While CAG declined to provide specific details about the trial for security reasons, it highlighted that Apids is designed to process both 2D and 3D images. This capability is crucial as the airport experiences a surge in air travel, with passenger traffic in September 2023 reaching 89 percent of pre-pandemic levels in 2019, totaling 4.87 million passengers.

CAG acknowledges the challenges in security screening due to the increasing number of bags and diverse prohibited items. The focus of the current trials is to improve Apids’ capabilities, reduce false alarms, and expand the list of detectable prohibited items. The AI system must also be trained to recognize benign items to ensure it flags only items of concern or unknown objects.

However, hurdles remain on the regulatory front. While protocols in Europe assess Apids against international security screening standards, CAG emphasizes the need for further discussions among international bodies and state regulators to establish policies for adopting this groundbreaking technology.

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