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Saturday, Jul 13, 2024

Cubic Reads Your Palm as Part of Future of Mass Transportation

San Diego-based Cubic Corp. is investigating whether a biometric scan might serve as a good train ticket.

The technology is not ready for real-world deployment yet, but Cubic (NYSE: CUB) and its partners are pushing forward with the project.

The British government is helping to fund the research, which is based in the United Kingdom. Financial details of the agreement were not immediately available.

Cubic already provides advanced ticketing technology for London’s rail transit system, as well as systems around the world.

Facial Features

The business is working on two biometric structures, one that recognizes facial features, and another that scans the veins in the palm of a person’s hand.

Several things are driving the technology push, including Cubic’s wish to keep up with transportation system technology. You might say Cubic is laying the groundwork for future business.

Meanwhile, London expects more people to climb aboard its congested urban transit system. Five years ago, authorities predicted ridership would double in 15 to 25 years, thanks to population growth and “hyper urbanization.” That is according to Dave Roat, strategy director at Cubic Transportation Systems.

As a result, transportation planners have to think ahead to longer, higher-capacity, and more frequent trains and all the infrastructure changes to support them.

They are also thinking about how they might eliminate one choke point for people: the gates where commuters line up to present their tickets. Roat described the gate as “a line in the sand” that riders have to cross.

No Crowd at the Gate

Cubic and its partners are thinking of eliminating the crowd at the gate — and the gate itself. Instead, people could walk down a long corridor. At some time during that walk, passengers could show evidence they had paid to ride the train.

Currently the palm vein scanner offers the most promise. It offers almost the same speed as a smart card, Roat said.

Facial recognition technology works about 70 percent of the time — and that is in a controlled, laboratory environment.

“We couldn’t live with 70 percent,” Roat said, noting the technology needs to mature.

Not All Onboard

Recently, to gauge response his office showed off its facial recognition and palm vein scan technology to a crowd at the London Transport Museum, an attraction that features historic bus, taxi and subway equipment.

The results of the poll were not scientific, but they offered a glimpse of public sentiment.

One third of the museum-goers said they wouldn’t mind a biometric scan to serve as their ticket, reasoning that they get tracked anyway.

One third of museum-goers said they might allow a biometric scan, provided the transit agency protected their data.

The other third?

They said, “No way, never,” Roat recalled.

Finding Problems

The system would be able to detect people who were trying to ride without paying a fare. Transit staff would be able to contact fare evaders. The system could also generate statistics on which stations had the most “leakage” — that is, the most fare evaders.

Cubic won a competition to develop the technology in concert with the British government, which splits the cost of the program with Cubic 50-50. Cubic’s research partner is the U.K.’s Bristol Robotics Laboratory.

Transit riders in London already have a wide choice of ticket media: paper tickets with magnetic stripes, smart cards and “contactless” bank cards that trade information over radio waves. They can also pay with mobile phones. Roat said Cubic is working on tickets that use Bluetooth radio signals.

Cubic provides the fare card equipment used on San Diego’s buses, trolleys and some trains.

It provides the fare cards for Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. It is competing for another term as the fare-collection technology provider to New York City’s transit system.

The San Diego corporation gets 40 percent of its revenue from transit operators. The other 60 percent of Cubic’s revenue comes from defense contracting. The business’ total revenue for fiscal 2016 was $1.46 billion, up from $1.43 billion in fiscal 2015.

One of Roat’s co-workers at Cubic presented a paper on his lab’s specialty, called “Scalable Biometric Travel Token without Barriers to Access,” in September at the University of Rome during the 23rd International Conference on Urban Transportation and the Environment.

Cubic’s push into biometrics comes at a time when consumers are starting to interact with similar technology. Apple Inc.’s new iPhone has a facial recognition feature, for example.

“By the time [such] technologies emerge in the transportation space, people will be quite used to them,” Roat said.


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