Wednesday 10 August 2011

IRIS - Look into my eyes

About a year ago (maybe more) I signed up for the Border and Immigration Agency's IRIS scheme as I departed the UK on business.

It only took about 5 minutes and the idea was that I wouldn't have to have my passport checked when I came back into the UK, simply look into a camera and it would compare my Iris pattern (as unique as a fingerprint) with that recorded when I signed up.

On the return leg, the IRIS machines were out of action and since then I'd not had an opportunity to fly through a terminal with the system.

Yesterday, however I did. I came in through Terminal 5 at Heathrow and, passport in hand, faced the long queue at passport control.

Then I spotted the channel for the IRIS machine with just 5 people in it. Of course, I joined it, partly to see if it would actually work.

The device is a camera with a couple of mirrors (for people of differing height, I guess) inside a cubicle with two pairs of sliding perspex doors. The idea being that you go in, the entry gate closes (to stop others coming in), you get your eyes scanned and then the second doors open letting you through.

My hopes weren't raised too high as a bloke 3 in front of me repeatedly tried and failed to get the system to recognise him, Finally, he was ejected from the entry gate and had to return to the Passport queue (Oddly, there seemed no way to get back out until the machine decides you can, which is a bit embarrasing for the person in it!).

However, the next couple in front of me passed through fairly easily (the woman, seemingly, at the first attempt) and then it was my go.

I walked in and looked into the mirror it said to use. Looking back at me was my face with two small green circles superimposed on it. I tried to get them aligned with my eyes and then a calm woman's voice came from the machine, saying "Move back slightly". I did so and as I tried to align my eyes the exit gate opened and a green arrow appeared on the machine.

All this took 5-10 seconds maximum and I was through! Total time from touchdown to home (30 miles away) took 1h 15m! If only flying was always so easy!

So, IRIS seems a great system to me. I'm not sure the poor bloke a little ahead of me would agree though...

Details of IRIS can be found here.