Yan Baczkowski

From passive scanners to seamless corridors, airport security technology is on a rapid evolution to both increase accuracy and reduce inconvenience. The latest technology is one of our favorites: a scanner that actually determines the composition of materials rather than trying to see through them. Basically, it can tell the difference between a harmless object and a potentially dangerous prohibited item.

The Halo technology still uses X-rays to build the image, but it can process an object’s “material signature” to determine what it’s made of. Current technology can only mark whether an item is plastic, metal or organic, which leaves plenty open to interpretation. Marijuana and food, for example, are both organic, and there aren’t always obvious differences between explosive metallics and non-explosive metallics. Given those limitations, security screeners must physically inspect suspicious items. This new technology could theoretically eliminate many of these manual searches, as screeners could inspect items without opening the bag.

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The Halo uses what’s known as X-ray crystallography, which is a technique that analyzes how a particular material scatters X-ray particles to determine its composition. By looking at the unique pattern that the particle scatter creates, the machine can then make determinations on what the object is made of. The Halo engineers then had to create a faster way of making this happen, and so deployed tubular X-ray beams which amplify a material’s signature.

In comments to The Engineer, Halo’s chief technology officer Paul Evans said:

“Our beam intersects the object, and concentrates the signal, so we can place various detectors inside the hollow beam, and see these unique patterns of diffracted radiation. Our aim is to ultimately produce a device that will not only produce signals, but also reconstruct three-dimensional images from these signals.”

These 3D images would then be matched against a library of materials, in order to make the determination of what materials are in any given bag.

The technology is also made to be automated, meaning that no humans would be needed to monitor the images. Halo will create an alert whenever a supsicious material is detected for further human inspection. So not only is there more accuracy and efficiency but there’s lower cost as well! Sounds like a rare win for airport security.

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