French invent robots to replace border police

New airport technology unveiled at the Paris Air Show this week by French company Thales promises robots to replace immigration officers.

French invent robots to replace border police
The days of humans checking your passport could soon be over. Photo: AFP

French electrical systems company Thales premiered its new equipment designed to speed up passage through airports.

In their vision of the future, passengers will no longer deal with check-in desks — an innovation already making inroads in many airports.

To take that even further, Thales has designed a machine that not only scans passports and prints boarding passes, but also records an image of the passenger's face and iris, which are then shared with computers around the airport.

The images are already in the system when the passenger arrives at the immigration desk, allowing a tall, white robot to automatically confirm the person's identity without the need for human border staff.

(A woman tests the new technology. Photo: AFP)

“You would only need one agent for every four or five machines,” said Pascal Zenoni, a Thales manager presenting the equipment at the air show.

“These systems can free up staff for the police and create more space in the airport,” he added.

The passenger's face is also printed in encrypted form on the boarding pass so that it can be scanned by staff at the gate for a final identity check.

Thales hopes to build on its expertise as the maker of biometric passports and ID cards for 25 countries, including France.

Perhaps robots will be drafted in at French airports where the border police have been criticized for not being polite enough.

Last week the French foreign minister unveiled a new campaign aimed at making France more polite for visitors. It includes one measure that will force border police to say “Hello, “thank you” and “goodbye” to every passenger as they check their passport. (see link below)

Thirteen ways France aims to become more welcoming

Meanwhile, in another air show stand, competitors Safran discussed their new systems for coping with the giant amount of data being collected on passengers.

Their new analytical system from subsidiary Morpho, which begins live testing in France in September, is expected to gather data on more than 100 million passengers from up to 230 airlines per year.

It sifts through the records, checking against over 300 behavioural “warning signs” — signals the company is loathe to discuss in detail.

It also checks it against Interpol and other police records, searching primarily for terrorists and organised criminals.

Morpho is a world leader in criminal identification, running biometric systems for the FBI and other clients.

Although similar systems already exist at airports in the United States, Safran says current competitors throw up too many errant warnings, and can take months to alter.

(A woman tests the new technology. Photo: AFP)

“Our priority has always been to reduce the number of false alarms,” said Samuel Fringant, from Morpho's Security Division. “Our system adapts constantly from the information it receives.”

“That is necessary because you are always in a race between the people operating the system and people trying to cheat it,” added Luc Tombal, from the company's border control business unit.

As well as France, the company is expected to finalise a deal in the coming months to provide the system to Estonia.

The Paris Air Show is the world's top showcase for the aerospace industry, expected bring together over 2,000 exhibitors and 300,000 visitors as it runs through Sunday.

SEE ALSO : Where would the US be without France!


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How a giant volcano led a German to create the world’s first bike

Over 200 years ago on June 12th, an inventor from Karlsruhe was inspired to create the world's first practically used bicycle.

How a giant volcano led a German to create the world's first bike
Von Drais' invention on display at the Technoseum in Mannheim in 2016. Photo: DPA

Beginning on the April 5th, 1815, the eruption of Mt Tambora in modern-day Indonesia let to vast clouds of ash, shot high into the Earth's atmosphere. Not only dimming the skies, it led to a sudden cooling of temperatures, killing crops and lead to famine.

In many parts of the world, 1816 became known as the 'Year Without A Summer'.

In Europe, not only did the eruption lead to famine, but also impacted people's ability to get about. With less feed for horses, it simply wasn't possible to keep as many stabled, or use them more than necessary.

A prototype for horseless travel

Enter then, our hero – a German, no less. Already able to devote his life to invention, thanks to his noble background, Baron Karl Von Drais noted the need for a new mode of transportation due to the lack of healthy horses around.

Based in Karlsruhe, in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg, he spent hours developing a prototype for horseless travel.

SEE ALSO: 10 things you use everyday and had no idea were invented by Germans

On June 12th, 1817, Von Drais revealed his creation to the world – or the people of Mannheim, at least.

This historical sketch shows 'Karl Friedrich Freiherr von Drais von Sauerbronn' (1785-1851) using his invention. Archive drawing: DPA

It looked like a very primitive bicycle, propelled by pushing one's feet along the ground. He called it a 'Laufmachine', or 'running machine' – it would later become known as a 'draisine' and in English, the 'dandy horse'.

Riding a distance of about four and a half kilometres along roads and footpaths, Von Drais made the journey in an hour, a considerable saving of time on the same journey by foot.

The people of Mannheim were impressed, and news soon spread of this new invention. Once people actually tried the vehicle, however, uptake would not be as high as he hoped.

For a start, roads across Europe were terrible, and the 'Laufmaschine' lacked any kind of suspension. It was also a pain to push uphill. The skies would also clear by the following year, allowing travel by horse to resume again at normal levels.

One invention leads to the next

Von Drais was awarded a patent for the 'Laufmaschine', along with several other of his inventions such as a meat grinder and an economical heater. He would hardly profit from them, however.

To this day, Von Drais inspires bike enthusiasts. One of them, Walter Werner, took a 3,000 km ride starting in Karlsruhe on a bike modelled after Von Drais'. Photo: DPA

Alongside the wider lukewarm reception to the vehicle, family connections made him a target for revolutionaries, who hounded him into poverty. He died in 1851.

It may seem that describing Von Drais as a hero is overdoing it, especially considering the drawbacks of his invention. However, it would undoubtedly go on to inspire a generation of pioneers and inventors who would change the world.

For example, as they will tell you in Karlsruhe, just a few streets away from Von Drais' residence, lived a small boy who could not have but heard about the 'Laufmaschine', and seen a few trundling around the streets at the time. It must have excited him.

His name was Carl Benz.