How does the new way of clearing immigration at Woodlands Checkpoint work?

The second version of the Automated Passenger In-car Clearance System was launched for trial on June 21, 2022.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Those driving into Singapore via Woodlands Checkpoint from now till October may be asked to use a new automated clearance system, allowing them to clear immigration without having to interact with an officer.

Instead, the driver will scan the passports of everyone in the car, and cameras will identify the travellers using facial and iris biometrics before letting them through.

The second version of the Automated Passenger In-car Clearance System (Apics), developed by the Home Team Science and Technology Agency (HTX) with the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), was launched for trial on June 21.

The first prototype was trialled in December 2017, requiring travellers to present their fingerprints on a biometric device extended to them via a robotic arm.

This proved to still be cumbersome, as passengers had to fiddle with the device inside the car.

The new version being trialled has been updated to allow greater convenience.

As the vehicle enters the clearance booth, sensors detect what kind of car it is and automatically adjusts the self-help kiosk to the appropriate height.

At the kiosk, the driver scans the passports of everyone in the vehicle in any sequence.

Travellers are then prompted to look towards the different cameras positioned outside the car.

Their faces and irises are scanned simultaneously and authenticated before they are let into Singapore.

Currently, the trial is being conducted at the checkpoint on weekday nights.

Travellers are selected based on several conditions due to the limitations of the system.

These conditions include having a maximum of four people in the car who must be above the age of six.

It took less than five minutes for a car with passengers to clear immigration using the system during a media demonstration on Wednesday (June 29).

The driver will scan the passports of everyone in the car, and cameras will identify them using facial and iris biometrics.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Mr Cheng Wee Kiang, director of HTX's Robotics, Automation and Unmanned Systems Centre of Expertise, said it has received positive feedback from members of the public who have used it to clear immigration in the past week.

He said one driver even asked for the system to be rolled out across the checkpoint immediately because of how efficient it was.

"Apics has come a long way from when it first started in 2017," said Mr Cheng.

"Back then, we had no prior reference. We designed and developed a robotic system from scratch."

Mr Cheng said the first trial still proved useful, as it showed self-clearance of travellers in vehicles was feasible.

"With the advancement of contactless biometric verification methods and the key lessons from the Covid-19 pandemic, we have now developed the next-generation Apics - a fully contactless system that offers a seamless immigration clearance process for car travellers - for the future," he said.

Since the start of the trial in June, a variety of cars including the larger Toyota Vellfire have been able to clear immigration using the system.

As the vehicle enters the clearance booth, sensors detect what kind of car it is and automatically adjusts the self-help kiosk to the appropriate height. 
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Officers from ICA and HTX are stationed at the booth during the trial to collect feedback and provide assistance if any is needed.

The prototype booth took about six months to install at the checkpoint, and features built-in lights to softly illuminate the faces of passengers without casting a harsh shadow.

It also has fans to prevent the build-up of exhaust fumes within the area.

Assistant Commissioner Phua Chiew Hua, 2 deputy director of ICA's operations division, was supportive of the trial which he said would allow more efficient use of manpower.

"With Apics, car travellers at the land checkpoints will be able to enjoy a more seamless, safer and secure immigration clearance," he said.

"Apics will also enable ICA to redeploy its officers to perform higher-value tasks such as profiling and risk assessment at the land borders."

ICA is expected to reveal more details about the operations involving the system later this month.

PHOTO: Straits Times Graphics
PHOTO: Straits Times Graphics
PHOTO: Straits Times Graphics

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.