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Facial recognition for Peace Bridge trucks could cut congestion in half

Some day in the near future while zipping across a congestion-free Peace Bridge, you might thank all those truckers smiling for the camera.

A joint pilot program of the Peace Bridge Authority and U.S. Customs and Border Protection is testing new facial recognition technology in Fort Erie, Ont., that could drastically reduce backups caused by commercial traffic. If the program works as expected in using artificial intelligence equipment to capture images of truckers heading from Canada to the U.S., officials hope the system will expedite the border crossing experience and reduce bridge congestion by as much as half.

If the pilot is successful, cameras clicking on trucker mugs could become standard for crossing into the U.S. as soon as midway into the new year.

“By using technology on the Canadian side, we can assist U.S. Customs on the U.S. side to expedite the process,” said authority General Manager Ron Rienas. “We could cut inspection time in half.”

Aaron Bowker, Customs’ supervisory officer in Buffalo, said the test involves cameras capturing faces of truckers in a new program called Pre-Arrival Readiness Evaluation.

“This provides a unique opportunity to evaluate biometric identification capabilities in a commercial environment,” he said, “allowing primary officers to handle fewer documents and further reduce traffic congestion.”

For the past several years, Customs and bridge officials have developed a variety of new technologies to move trucks, which are the primary cause of traffic backups. Rienas explained that when a commercial rig enters the pre-arrival inspection facilities in Fort Erie, U.S. Customs knows “within a millisecond” if the driver has filed an electronic manifest and paid the required border fees.

Those drivers are already registered in Customs’ Free and Secure Trade, or FAST, program, which records photographs and fingerprints and encompasses 85 to 90 percent of trucks now crossing the bridge. License plate recognition, X-ray inspection and radiation portals – which can detect radioactive materials – are also part of the border process.

Now the cameras tested in the pilot program will use algorithms to compare faces already recorded in the Customs data banks.

“Customs can know in advance who is coming and if there are any issues with that driver,” Rienas said. Those with no issues could be moved through more quickly.  “It would have a significant impact on the time spent at the primary booth in the U.S.”

He added that the Canada Border Services Agency is testing similar technology at the Ambassador Bridge in Detroit, introducing the possibility of its eventual use in both directions. At Buffalo, however, Rienas said the new system furthers the goal of moving as many border functions as possible to the Fort Erie side and its much more spacious plaza.

Some challenges lie ahead, Rienas said, including testing whether cameras can successfully penetrate truck windshields. If it all proves successful, however, Rienas anticipates the system will soon appear at many of the busiest crossings of the northern border.

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