The iBorderCtrl project, in order to address the key challenges for land border control in the European Union, has established and demonstrated a unified solution covering the needs of all involved actors namely travellers, Border Guards and Border Managers. The iBorderCtrl system was designed and developed with the aim to speed up the border crossings and at the same time enhance the security and confidence of the citizens and society to the border checks by bringing together many novel technologies.
The iBorderCtrl solution was designed and developed taking into consideration the requirements, guidance and expertise of the 3 end-users participating in the project, namely the Hungarian Border Guards, the Latvian State Border Guards and the Greek Border Guards and Hellenic Police Officers. These experts were the ones who also evaluated the iBorderCtrl complete system and individual components in their early and final versions during extensive piloting tests that took place in 3 countries and in two pilot test phases. During the pilots, the Border Guards and Border Managers were familiarised and actively involved with iBorderCtrl and provided their constructive input. Following the usability and ergonomics tests phase, the integrated iBorderCtrl system was validated against real-life scenarios. The real-life scenarios testing was carried out in laboratory conditions and/or restricted environments, rather than involving volunteers from the general public; accordingly, participants for the pilot tests were recruited from within the iBorderCtrl Consortium, mainly from the end-users organisations (Hungarian National Police, Latvian State Border Guards and KEMEA and the Hellenic Police including Border Guards).
Three main Test Phases for the pilot implementation, validation and evaluation of the iBorderCtrl platform were conducted. Each Phase addressed specific and separate needs in terms of integration and testing of all deployment dimensions; to this end, different targets were set for each Phase and different aspects were tested, all of which added to an overall cumulative piloting experience. The three phases (namely the “Convergence of all preparatory actions” phase, the “Testing of all tools in terms of ergonomics and usability and first validation feedback” phase, and the “Final overall evaluation through full-scale deployment and scenarios testing” phase) provided valuable feedback that finally led to a successful operational functionality of the whole iBorderCtrl system (as well as to the expected functionality of individual iBorderCtrl sub-systems).
For this reason, substantial efforts were made by the iBorderCtrl Consortium members in testing the network equipment, software applications and hardware devices, at the selected pilot sites. Feedback covered both physiological factors and subjective/psychological attitudes relating to their use. This included matters, such as ergonomic aspects, like the feeling of wearing the Portable Unit for several hours when referring to the border guards, or the user experience when applying for a new travel when referring to the traveller who needs to organise her/his next trip, which resulted in thorough, qualitative feedback. This enabled the Consortium to finally offer an integrated system that was in line with the end-users’ wishes, work, daily routines and acceptance criteria.
The pilots were successful on validating the basic concept and the lessons learned and mapped further development in order to reach higher TRLs (beyond the proposal objectives). Especially, the Integrated Border Control Analytics Tool (BCAT) and the Traveller User Application (TUA) achieved significant advancements between the test phases. The hardware of the Portable Unit (PU) served well as a testbed for the software and fulfilled all durability requirements, but there is still place for development in ergonomics.
The pilot tests provided some very interesting and promising results regarding the evaluation of individual modules and their performance, but also outlined the risks and limitations of novel technologies in border control. More information on the risks and limitations can be found in the F.A.Q. section (https://www.iborderctrl.eu/Frequently-Asked-Questions).The conclusions of the pilot tests based on the valuable feedback received by the Border Guards and the Border Managers who participated in the pilots in relation to the iBorderCtrl innovations can be summarised to the following:
- According to the opinion of the Border Guards and Border Managers in all pilot sites, the concept of having a pre-registration phase incorporated at the land border check procedure was found to be a unique concept. Travellers register a new trip at the comfort of their own home through the Traveller User Application (TUA) that collects all relevant data helping them ensure they are fulfilling their obligations to enter a country and allowing for all automated checks to take place in advance, enabling in this way for much more computationally expensive methods to be deployed. As a result, TUA has the potential to become an important tool supporting the management of the BCP for better planning of the personnel shifts.
- The basic functions offered by the TUA were found to be very promising, especially in scope of the upcoming ETIAS implementation. In terms of usability, the Traveller User Application (TUA) was considered overall an easy to use and efficient pre-travel registration process which discourages illegal crossings, speeds up the border crossings and improves the border security. The little time required for the trip registration was considered as a very positive result.
- The concept of the Portable Unit (PU) (all elements necessary for border checks in one place) was considered as an effective tool that in the nearest future can support the border guards and speed up the process of border checks. It should be highlighted that the Border Guards had the ability to move through the car lanes and conduct the BCP checks “on the spot”, without even having the traveller stepping out from the car (“Border Guards’ mobility) and avoiding unnecessary movements around the car and the territory of BCP.
- The PU was also effective for border checks conducted outside the BCP facility (e.g. in trains), where border guards operate in a limited space and time. The Border Guards using the portable unit in all pilot sites had the opportunity to conduct the BCP control checks regardless of the location and even in the vicinity of the booths (instead from inside the booth as it is the usual case). This ability is very useful in cases of heavy traffic at the borders where with the proper allocation and management of resources, it would result in “gaining additional lanes” by using the iBorderCtrl system and Portable unit. As a result, the use of the PU reduces waiting time at the borders and raises the satisfaction level of the travellers which adopt a better attitude towards official procedures.
- At the border crossing stage, the Border Guards User Application (BGUA) provides key technology to the border guards through the use of a tablet integrated at the PU. At this stage all the information provided by the traveller during the pre-registration phase is available to the Border Guard; the BGUA was considered as a user-friendly application that allowed to simplify the operations with the PU. It was very easy to setup, learn and use even from staff, who was inexperienced and not familiar with the relevant technology.
- The Border Managers User Application (BMUA) allows for a timely assessment and evaluation of the risk and traffic on a given BCP within a given time range or date while allowing to rapidly assess a single subject in comparison with the entire or parts of the database. BMUA enables the optimal management of the BCP through traffic and risk estimation by adjusting the security and border guard numbers based on the predicted traffic and risk.
- The Border Manager User Application (BMUA), was considered as one of the most interesting tools presented to Border Managers, opening new dimensions in the future in comparison to the currently used traditional means, tools and ways of collecting and analyzing data and risks related to border crossings.