Monday, 26 May 2014

Passport 2.0: Faisal Ariff's idea to ease immigration checks

Travel plans: From the coldest weather in Antarctica to the highest peak in Machu Picchu, Peru (pic), Faisal Ariff has conquered it all. And now with his Passport 2.0 idea, he wants to make travelling safer and more convenient. – Photo EDGAR HUAMAN DOMINGUEZ

Travel plans: From the coldest weather in Antarctica to the highest peak in Machu Picchu, Peru (pic), Faisal Ariff has conquered it all. And now with his Passport 2.0 idea, he wants to make travelling safer and more convenient. – Photo EDGAR HUAMAN DOMINGUEZ

Tired of lining up at Immigration? Here’s an idea from the Global Impact Competition winner.

ANTARCTICA, endless miles of nothing but white. And when the wind blows, it can kill you. Faisal Ariff had dug a trench in which he would retire for the night, there in the punishing Antarctic wilderness. The deep hole in the ice would protect him from the murderous winds. All was fine ... until he had to urinate.

Faisal remembered the most difficult days in his Antarctica trip on Robert Swan’s ship. Camping on the ice was definitely not a tourist thing to do.

“Everyone basically dug their own graves in the ice,” he said. “The reason we dug a trench was to make sure the winds above would not affect us. My engineering skills weren’t so good, so I didn’t dig a deep enough trench, so I got hit by the winds at night. It was quite stressful, especially when you have to go pee.”

How does one do that in such harsh conditions and in the dark?

“With great difficulty!” Faisal laughed.

The “restroom” was a blue barrel “two miles away” from camp. At 4.30am, he woke up and went with his Peruvian friend to look for the barrel.

“As we were walking along, suddenly a penguin crossed our path!” said Faisal with not a hint of irony. “Then there was a seal. And finally we reached the blue barrel, and that was the best pee I ever had in my life!”

The 32-year-old fund manager has travelled a lot in the past year, and Antarctica was probably his most adventurous jaunt. He is also an active volunteer with Mercy Malaysia, and has been to Afghanistan, Lahad Datu and the Philippines in the Haiyan aftermath.

But what’s even tougher than the extreme weather of the far south is the hassle of going through Immigration at airports, the waiting and the queuing. Any traveller will tell you, that can put a real damper on any trip or holiday.

And that’s why Faisal came up with Passport 2.0. It was his winning idea at the first ever Global Impact Competition in Malaysia. It garnered him a US$30,000 (RM96,856) sponsorship to Sillicon Valley’s Singularity University for its Graduate Studies Programme.

The competition was in search of an idea that would impact one million people in the next five years. It was held simultaneously in 15 other countries. In Malaysia, it was organised by Mindvalley and sponsored by philanthropists Ayub Ali and Alyah Abdullah. Five finalists were chosen from 70 entries, and each finalist had to make a presentation on stage.

Since Faisal was still in Antarctica and couldn’t be on stage for his presentation, he shot a video there and it was screened during the event. Notice the penguins loitering in the background.

His brother Johan was present to answer queries from the judges, who comprised Youth And Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, Dr Clarence Tan who was the first Malaysian to attend Singularity University, Mindvalley CEO and founder Vishen Lakhiani, Young Scientific Explorers and Young Scientific Discoverers founder Dr Mohamed Yunus Yassin, CEO of Genovasi Carol Wong, and founder of Creador Brahmal Vasudevan.

Passport 2.0 aims to be a more efficient and safer immigration process. The normal procedure is that travellers fill up an immigration card, queue for 10 to 30 minutes, and have a chat with the Immigration officer.

“This is a waste of productive time because the information we fill in the form is basic and repetitive,” says Faisal in his video presentation. “It also involves duplication as the officer has to key in the same information in our forms. It’s information that has already been provided during our visa application and flight booking.”

And the short chat with the officer isn’t enough to “weed out the bad apples”.

“Imagine an online account like Paypal or Facebook, which you can sign up for when you apply for a new passport,” he says in his video. “This will contain your passport scan, the information in your passport, your visa, your fingerprints and even your immunisation records.”

Imagine when you book a flight, you will have an option to sign in to your Passport 2.0 account, and it automatically updates your information. The Immigration authorities at your destination are notified of your information immediately, and all you have to do when you arrive is swipe your biometric passport or scan your fingerprint, and off you go.

“The moment you book a flight, it is recorded and communicated to the destination’s government,” said Faisal. Instead of just two or three minutes to go through your records, Immigration there has two to three weeks, possibly longer.

Faisal was travelling in Spain when he received news about the competition. He had trouble getting Internet connection to do his research, and ended up writing notes on napkins and envelopes.

“I wrote down all the search terms I wanted to use, and the moment I got some Internet time, I sat down and did my research,” he said. “I sent it in a day before the deadline.”

He initially wanted to send a video of himself in various airports, but as fate would have it, he ended up with the penguins.

The core issue with Passport 2.0, he said, is convincing four parties to adopt the system – the passenger, the government, the airline and the airport.

“A long time ago I did a paper on credit cards,” Faisal explained. “If you think about it, it’s a similar system. For a credit card to work, four parties have to agree to it. One is the bank that issues the card, two is the cardholder, three is the merchant and four is the merchant’s bank.

“It sounds like a pretty big thing but now we have Visa and MasterCard. Everyone is incentivised to have it. It’s convenient for the merchant to get money from people who spend on credit. It’s good for the cash flow of the cardholder. It’s obviously good for the banks.”

Right now he’s preparing for his sojourn in June at Singularity University, which will be quite an experience for him, even though it’s not Antarctica. He plans to get others interested in his idea.

Dr Tan, the first Malaysian to attend the university, said: “You cannot underestimate the connections he will make over there. My team’s original idea was fighting counterfeit drugs. So Singularity arranged for us to meet the head of the Food And Drugs Administration, and we had breakfast with her to get her ideas. You get to meet very senior level people. So it would be the best chance for him to get his idea off the ground.”

Faisal said: “I hesitate to mention MH370, but if this can help our Immigration men and women out there, it would just feel so good to know that you’ve done ... something to help them out.”

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , Travel , Faisal Ariff , Global Impact Competition , Mindvalley , Singularity University , Sillicon Valley , Dr Clarence Tan , Passport 2 0 , travel , immigration


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