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Airport Pat-Downs May No Longer Be Necessary Thanks To New Hand Held Security Scanners

Aug 17

Each of us has gone through a metal detector at the airport, praying that we didn't leave anything in our pockets that would cause the alarm to go off. The procedure is stopped for a pat down when security staff are unable to instantly determine what is setting off the alert. Although this greatly slows down the screening procedure for others standing in line and may be unpleasant for the person being checked, it is a necessary step in ensuring the safety of all passengers.

The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) continuously invests in research and development to provide future-proof solutions for airport security, for both those being screened and those doing the screening. The government, academia, and business collaborate with S&T's Screening at Speed Program to significantly shorten screening wait times, enhance the passenger experience, and boost security efficacy at the airport from curb to gate.

In order to enhance portable screening scanners that use millimeter wave (MMW) technology to resolve alerts and lessen the need for pat-downs, Screening at Speed took use of the DHS Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program in 2020. Design principles described by Screening at Speed included recognizing metallic and non-metallic anomalous items, characterizing object materials, and using automated algorithms that maintain privacy while differentiating between hidden objects and clothes or skin.

Karl Harris, Ph.D., federal project manager for S&T's Screening at Speed program, stated, "We used our SBIR program to support two separate novel portable scanners based on newly-available and low-cost 5G electronics." The development and use of these wand technologies will enhance the traveling experience, lighten the load on TSOs, and enable more comprehensive scans.

It also provides on-demand security screening in settings without conventional screening technologies by creating a multi-functional touchless screening solution. By doing this, DHS will be able to serve the objectives of its constituent organizations that look after our borders, coastlines, and government more effectively. Security during massive gatherings and athletic events might also be improved with the help of solutions.

Although the creation of portable screening equipment of this quality has been a long-term S&T aim, it has been impossible to implement due to data needs and hardware costs until recent technological developments made it possible. Small businesses now have the ideal opportunity to integrate commercially available (COTS) technologies to build and transition next-generation screening solutions like the handheld millimeter wave wand due to the rise of 5G cell phones, automotive radars, embedded computing, and other crucial enabling technologies.

S&T granted 24-month SBIR Phase II contracts TeraMetrix and Spectral Labs to expand on the prototypes they showcased after completing six months of Phase I work. The performers were given instructions during both rounds of development that included compensation for purposeful or accidental wand shaking, a target volume cost of $5,000 or less, and a minimum three- to four-hour battery life.

At the conclusion of Phase I, Spectral Labs' prototype demonstrated the capacity to identify things hidden by thin garments as well as a range of material classes. They will concentrate throughout Phase II on enhancing item detection in more difficult situations, addressing environmental issues, and identifying and categorizing explosive compounds. By the conclusion of Phase II, these functionalities must be added to two distinct prototypes, and they must also satisfy non-screening design requirements including size, weight, durability, and battery life.

The detection capacities of various COTS Frequency Modulation Continuous Wave (FMWC) hardware configurations are being tested by TeraMetrix utilizing a range of simulated threat items. The FMWC hardware increases measuring accuracy and makes computation easier. They used the sensor data from their Phase I wand prototype to show their early object reconstruction skills. The integration of the feature into three fresh prototypes is the main goal of Phase II. They would also try to provide data for alarm resolution screening in real-time.

The Screening at Speed team will assess both businesses' prototypes and performance at the completion of Phase II contracts in order to decide the development program's next stages. Potential uses for a prototype once it is ready for commercialization include use as a secondary screening tool to lessen the number of pat-downs TSOs at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) must conduct; as a primary and secondary screening tool at border crossings; as a primary screening tool at ad hoc security checkpoints and large events run by law enforcement; and as part of the security apparatus for high-profile security screenings.

Sharene Young, manager of S&T's TSA portfolio, said that the DHS SBIR cooperation has been highly helpful for exploring cutting-edge innovations like portable millimeter wave scanners. In order to reduce physical touch throughout the screening process and keep up with the evolving danger environment, the development of contactless alarm resolution technologies is a game-changing capability.