This past year isn’t just a year of the Covid-19 pandemic, but also a year of digitalisation. As the world heads into the new year and beyond, there will be a renewed focus on technologies that can help the world not only cope with the effects of the pandemic, but to also be well-positioned to drive innovation in all aspects of our life.

From the perspective of technology company Thales, businesses today are facing challenges like never before, brought on by disruptions in their markets and supply chains. Organisations must revisit, recalibrate, and in some cases, fundamentally re-invent the way they operate.

Success for companies in this new environment now more than ever depends on the adoption of digital transformation technologies including cloud computing, mobile, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and the Internet of Things (IoT), with cybersecurity being a critical component across all sectors.

Thales provides solutions, services and products that help its customers – businesses, organisations, regulatory bodies, governments and states – in the defence, aeronautics, space, transportation, and digital identity & security markets to not only survive, but thrive in this brave new world that we now live in.

Powering payments in a contactless world

One such phenomenon that started before — but accelerated with Covid-19 — is the rise of e-commerce and online shopping. As more customers utilise online platforms to transact both for work and play, digital payment solutions, from credit cards to solutions like Apple / Samsung / Grab Pay often become the only mode of payment. Thales is one of the top makers of chips and security hardware in credit cards, other payment cards and identity cards, allowing for more secure transactions for both merchants and buyers.

Last year, Thales acquired digital security company Gemalto, which was then organised into the Thales Digital Identity and Security (DIS) business unit. Thales DIS provides software applications, secures personal devices such as smart cards and tokens, and manages services across a whole plethora of industries.

According to Thales, DIS’s solutions are used by more than two billion people and 200 state organisations. With this, Thales now also protects 80% of the world’s banking transactions and 19 of the worlds’ 20 largest banks.

The Thales biometric payment card uses fingerprint authentication for a secure and convenient payment experience.

Beyond the convenience of cashless payment, the pandemic has accelerated the use of contactless payments as people avoided physical cash and chip-and-pin payment systems over concerns that would spread the virus. In the early months of the pandemic, China was reported to be even sterilising banknotes.

With the advantages of hygiene and social distancing, using contactless payment isn’t just about a fancy new technology, but one with a real utility.

With this in mind, Michael Au, Senior Vice President for Banking & Payment Services in Asia for Thales DIS wrote, “Until recently, contactless payments have been about convenience. Now it’s about contamination.”

The emergence of contactless payments isn’t only through credit cards, but through various devices - including one’s mobile phone and smartwatch - that can be linked to the credit card. To protect these transactions from fraud and theft, how do we verify the person making the transaction is really the cardholder?

Enter the biometric fingerprint credit card. Produced by Thales, a fingerprint sensor is built directly into the card to authorise payments, and works in the same way as how smartphones use fingerprint recognition to allow users access.

The company calls this “the next big innovation for the payments industry” in the coming years, adding that this new mode of using fingerprints instead of a PIN to authenticate a user has been certified by both Visa and Mastercard, accounting for 90% of the world’s credit cards.

But will contactless payment continue to be popular once the pandemic is over? Early evidence suggests it will, with 74% of respondents to a Mastercard study saying that they intend to keep using contactless after the pandemic.

Powering the future of flying

Most recently, with the news of promising vaccines hitting headlines, there are hopes that the pre-Covid life may return. When that happens, one of the industries that will experience a revival will be the aviation industry, as people fly for both work and pleasure.

However, a vaccine is just one of the tools that humanity will have to deploy against Covid-19. Practices like social distancing and reducing common contact with high touch surfaces will still remain, and to that end, Thales has developed a solution, named Ready To Fly, that allows customers to use their mobile phones to control their entire in-flight experience.

Thales’ Ready to Fly – a portfolio of solutions for a safer and healthier travel journey

This includes ordering their in-flight meals, asking for assistance from the cabin crew, and even selecting movies they want to watch on their in-flight entertainment systems. For Thales, this is one way to help check a resurgence of the virus, and beyond that, allow travellers to have the convenience of controlling everything on their mobile devices.

Thales is not just looking to use technology to contain the virus, but instead, to utilise it to enhance every part of the travel experience – from before the plane takes off and after it lands.

The official inauguration ceremony for the Thai e-passport which includes enhanced security features such as embedded biometric data and an embossed signature.

Just this year, the company was part of a consortium to launch Thailand’s next generation of e-passports. Launched in July, the new e-passport contends to be one of the world’s most advanced and secured passports, boasting enhanced security features such as embedded biometric data and an embossed signature.

The Thai e-passport project is one of the largest passport programs for Thales worldwide, and aims to provide Thai citizens superior technology and the highest possible level of security in a travel document, helping ensure secure and fast border crossing, while complying with all relevant data protection laws in Thailand and the highest security standards recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

And biometric technology doesn’t stop there. Thales continues to work on technology that will enable even more seamless journeys through airports and planes – using a person’s ‘face as their passport’.

Furthermore, Thales’ aviation solutions do not only extend to the passenger. Two out of every three planes around the world land and take off using Thales equipment. Tapping on technology, Thales rolled out a smart AI-powered innovation that helps air traffic controllers guide planes to land, enhancing safety, efficiency and optimising resources.

In Singapore, the company also is exploring ways to reduce the environmental impact of aviation, including conducting a feasibility study with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) for a safer, greener and more efficient Air Traffic Management (ATM) system.

Thales attributes the deepening of this collaboration to the success of the joint Aviation Innovation Research Lab (AIR Lab), set up in 2019 to drive innovation in new ATM technologies.

Powering the future, sustainably

While the world grapples with the pandemic and makes better use of new technologies to do so, corporations such as Thales aren’t losing sight of a bigger, longer term concern that will remain after the battle with Covid-19 is won: sustainability. More companies recognise that they can’t maintain a “profits-at-all-cost” business mentality without a care for the planet that humanity lives on.

To help companies and countries achieve these sustainability goals, Thales has advocated for the development of railways as the most sustainable mode of transport, while also powering economic development.

In Vietnam, the country has recognised the sustainability value of railways, and has launched ambitious public transportation plans to cater for its rapid economic and demographic growth.

Such projects are where Thales can bring its expertise in communications, signalling and fare collection into bear. Specifically, Thales is providing track communication systems and a line command & control centre for traffic management, energy distribution, video surveillance, passenger information and telephone services for Line 3 of the Hanoi metro.

In its White Paper on decarbonising transport, Thales notes that railways play a vital role in countering the dangers of climate change while supporting the economy and connecting communities.

What makes railways so important, and so attractive, is that they enable economic growth while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions, according to Thales.

The White Paper adds that the need for action is increasingly urgent as economies struggle to recover from the crisis. A business-as-usual scenario, with emissions climbing hand in hand with growth, is not feasible if the widely held goal of net zero emissions by 2050 is to be achieved.

But the sustainable advantage lies in not just building railways and trains, but also incorporating technologies to make the train network as sustainable as possible. One way to achieve net zero emissions is by increasing the capacity of railway lines, so they are able to carry more people and/or goods for the same amount of energy.

In Singapore, Thales, drawing on its strengths in video analytics, AI and cybersecurity, has helped create a new digital solution that enables effective crowd management at train stations operated by transport operator SBS Transit.

Leveraging SBS Transit’s existing CCTV networks and live ticketing data, this solution can provide real-time information on passenger density at station platforms and on-board trains; eliminating the need for train weighing which is currently being used to measure density.

With this solution, which can detect crowdedness and alert staff to the situation, SBS Transit’s station managers have heightened situational awareness to make informed decisions to ease congestion more efficiently, and enhance comfort and the travel experience for commuters.

In Thailand, The State Railway of Thailand (SRT) is pushing ahead with the modernisation of the country’s rail network, with an investment plan to turn railroads within 500 kilometres of Bangkok into an electric system.

Thales, together with its consortium partners, will design, supply and install upgrades to the signalling system to European Train Control System (ETCS) Level 1, a European-wide standard that boosts capacity and increases reliability of rail networks.

ETCS Level 1 will be on four individual sections on SRT’s railway network, covering significant swathes of SRT’s four lines. The solution will continuously calculate a safe maximum speed for each train, with cab signalling for the driver and onboard systems that take control if the permissible speed is exceeded, ensuring the highest safety standards for railway transportation in Thailand.

The implementation of ETCS Level 1 technology can be easily superimposed on the existing national signalling systems ensuring minimal disruption, and is said to boost capacity of existing networks by up to 40%.

As Nicolas Bouverot, Vice President of Thales South East Asia puts it, “The unique thing about Thales solutions is we will work with the customer to design solutions to address their specific pain points, instead of others who simply design a solution and sell it.”

The future is uncertain, but what is certain is that as the world recovers from the pandemic this year, technologies like these being developed by Thales, will be critical in creating a more digitalised, sustainable future that the world will need to progress.