Scanning Without Embarrassment
Having a “body scan” completed at airport security screening can be invasive. Those who are chosen — usually at random — have their “picture” taken, and the often revealing photo is sent to a screener. A technology from EMIT Technologies LLC may save airport passengers from this embarrassment.
The Department of Defense-sponsored Center for Commercialization of Advanced Technology (CCAT) has funded development of a new body scanner that may avoid the controversy of taking “naked” photos, by scanning travelers for contraband without touching them or X-raying them. The invention, called the People Portal II (PPII), performs a full body scan and displays it as a non-descript wireframe body image. It helps security personnel locate weapons, drugs and other concealed contraband in a matter of seconds.
Tex Yukl of Seattle-based EMIT Technologies LLC invented a handheld scanning device that used low energy microwaves designed primarily to seek out drugs in various hiding places in the late 1980s. In 2004, the CCAT started funding Yukl’s prototype, now the PPII, which can detect metallic and non-metallic weapons, explosives, drugs, flammable substances made of any non-physiological material and threats made of plastics, glass and ceramics.
The PPII has attracted interest from U.S. government agencies including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as some foreign governments. The CCAT program out of San Bernardino, Calif., has dedicated effort to the product. The program entertains proposals from companies with emerging technology invented by small entrepreneurs, academic researchers and government labs, and then guides the inventors/entrepreneurs through technology transfer processes that result in products that can be used by Homeland security personnel.
Tim Gerrity, director, CCAT San Bernardino, says the program is confident this is something that security personnel need. “This affects airport security in two ways. It provides faster throughput (the number of persons going through security), and coupled with that is the sensitivity to detect contraband in a way that can allow the TSA to explore people further with efficiency,” he says.
The handheld screening device piqued the FAA’s interest in the 1980s as well, and the agency went on to fund Yukl to use the technology to form a full body scanning system in 2000. The People Portal was invented, and sent to the FAA test center in Atlantic City. After listening to the FAA’s comments and specifications, he engineered the People Portal II, the prototype of which debuted in 2004.
The non-intrusive PPII energy format has been shown to be safe for humans, according to Curt Lew, president of Emit Technologies. It will significantly cut down wait time in the security checkpoint line, he says. “Our system does the most thorough check at the front line. Instead of operators using an X-ray machine or metal detectors just looking for metal, or bomb detectors just looking for vapors, our system looks for what should be allowed to go through a system. Our system looks for human physiology. It allows clothing things like watches and glasses. This way, the bulk of people do not need secondary checking. The alarm will only go off on certain people, and that number of people is much smaller than those chosen for random checks,” Lew says.
The PPII determines areas on the body that may hold a potential threat, but leaves it up to security personnel to find out what the person may be hiding. The portal also has sensors in the floor, so people don’t have to take off their shoes, thus making security checks quicker.
With the help from the FAA and the CCAT program, funding for a better PPII grew in 2006. “The CCAT funds certainly contributed to many of the processes from a financial and product development prospective,” Lew says. “This added to advancing the commercializing steps, and now, we’re almost ready to launch the People Portal II onto the market.”
Gerrity explains that although the CCAT program has much to do with the process now, once the product is out in the market, its job is done. But that may be awhile. “The concept of the technology has been proven, but it’s still a long road until the product may be sold,” he says.
The scanning accuracy of the portal does not rely on operator interpretation of images and offers a walkthrough time of 5 seconds. Lew is anticipating EMIT’s first final prototype, which will then be tested by the FAA. If FAA testing is successful, it could be approved for trial runs and sale in airports by the TSA and other secure facilities by the end of the year.