MINNEAPOLIS -- Delta Airlines Monday launched a test of a new self-service baggage drop system at Minneapolis St. Paul International Airport that relies on biometric facial recognition technology.
"When you look at any bag drop line you have a lot of people who don't need any help," Rick Newkirk, Delta's project manager, told KARE. "They just need to drop a bag."
The first stop for passengers is a kiosk that resembles normal self-service kiosks, except that it allows them to print their own baggage tags. Once they attach the tags to their bags the customers move on to the biometric bag drop station.
"First I'll scan my boarding pass, and then it's going to ask for my passport," Newkirk explained, as he placed his passport face down on a horizontal glass surface.
The machine can read passports or driver's licenses, but a Delta agent must examine the license before it can be scanned. Customers with passports can move straight to the optical scan without interacting with any humans.
"Now it's going to ask me to look into the camera," Newkirk said, as he stared at the camera at the center of the bag drop machine.
The machine took a 3D image of his face and compared it with a digital image pulled from his passport. And biometric technology can look past any changes in appearance since the passport photo was taken.
"There's a biometric algorithm that takes the distance between your eyes and the distance between your ears. It takes the ratios between all those points on your face and does the match," Newkirk said.
"If you tried to drop a bag with my passport it would definitely fail."
The object is to connect a unique baggage pass with a unique individual, so the tag on the bag is being scanned at the same time as the customer is going through facial recognition.
"The machine said yes, that’s who I am, and then weighed the bag and took the bag."
He said those with privacy concerns shouldn't worry, because the image from the scan is used in that moment in time and is not stored.
Customers who tried it seemed to warm up to the new technology quickly.
"Yes! I love this!" Barbara Syverson, a Minnesota native who now lives in Washington state, told KARE. "It’s quick and easy and fast. Love it. Awesome!"
In addition to expediting the process for customers, the self-service bag drop system will free up Delta agents to work with customers who have more complicated travel issues.
"We really want to move toward solutions with technology and innovation that allow our employees to get out from behind the counter, not processing transactions, but adding to the customer experience," Delta V.P. Toby Broberg told KARE.
Why Minnesota? MSP is Delta's second largest hub, and the company felt employees here were ready to take on the experiment.
"We have a great group of employees here and we’re very excited to launch this test," Broberg explained. "We are going to be hosting this test for six months and then hope to scale it more broadly and quickly across the system."