Monday, June 18, 2007

New Body Scanner Protects Travelers' Dignity

Airport Security Becomes Less Intrusive

Growing numbers of air passengers are complaining about the intrusive nature of airport security. The process has become like a military drill. We stand in lengthy queues in our stockinged feet, awaiting brusque inspection.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is still testing a new type of x-ray machine that sends those infamous "naked pictures" to screeners in a back room. The controversy over those immodest intrusions led to some re-working of the technology and diffusion of the imagery, but to most travelers it's still just a source of potential embarrassment.

However, upon scanning the scanning horizon, we espied a more acceptable way to accurately, yet not insensitively, scan travelers for contraband without touching them or x- raying them or depicting them naked.

The People Portal II (PPII) is an invention of Tex Yukl, a technologist of Seattle-based EMIT Technologies LLC. The PPII's full portal scan displays a non-descript wireframe body image which wouldn't offend even the most modest traveler (see images at, yet it doesn't inhibit detection by security personnel of weapons, drugs or other concealed contraband.

The device does this in seconds. Its unique attributes have brought inquiries from U.S. government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), as well as foreign governments.

Due to PPII's potential usage in military and non-airline security applications, the unique technology has also attracted funding from the Department of Defense-sponsored Center for Commercialization of Advanced Technology (CCAT).

With programs located at California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) and San Diego State University (SDSU), the CCAT program actively seeks out innovative technologies created by small entrepreneurs, academic researchers and government labs, and then guides those inventors through tech transfer processes that can result in their products being utilized by homeland security.

CCAT initially funded the PPII prototype in 2004. However, the technology has its roots in the late 1980s, when Yukl put together a handheld scanning device that used low energy microwaves designed primarily to seek out drugs in discrete hiding places, including containers and "mules".

People acting as mules swallow balloons or packets of illegal drugs as a means of concealing them from routine inspections, especially at border crossings. Yukl's handheld system was used to uncover a 1991 drug smuggling operation in Miami. The find was later prosecuted as the Pony Malta case.

The handheld scanner came to the attention of the FAA by routine "bird dogging". "Many large organizations, private and government, have 'bird dogs' that are always seeking out novel ways to resolve complex problems. They find them through patent searches and their networking relationships," says Curt Lew, president of EMIT Technologies.

Yukl helped to form EMIT in 1989, specifically to work on the technology's security applications as requested, and partially funded, by the FAA. Yukl transformed the technology inherent in the handheld device into a full body scanning system in 2000 and called it the People Portal.

The People Portal was evaluated by the FAA test center in Atlantic City and was sent to the Lewiston, Idaho airport for human throughput evaluation.

The FAA's rigorous criteria for use in airport screening centers had included the need to be able to quickly check many people (at least 10 people per minute) with a minimum of false positives, and without compromising modesty.

The company used the FAA's comments and specifications to re-engineer into the People Portal II, the prototype of which debuted in 2004 and positioned the company to win the Frost and Sullivan "Entrepreneurial Company of the Year" Award that same year.

The non-intrusive PPII energy format has been shown to be radiologically safe for humans. Its low energy microwaves, emitted by the system during operation, are less than that of overhead fluorescent lights.

Unlike other scanning technologies (i.e., x-ray and metal detectors), PPII shows operators only the location of objects that are neither living nor part of clothing. The unique dielectric process allows it to measure the movement of electromagnetic energy through materials.

This generates data to accurately detect and locate targets of interest and eventually to categorize the composition of the constituent material. PPII is an anomaly detector and relies upon conformal physiology, instead of shape. The portal has a proven capability of processing 900 to 1200 persons per hour and can detect an anomaly as small as five inches long.

However, the People Portal II doesn't attempt to identify what those objects are. For example, the PPII can easily find a smooth non-metallic item strapped around the body of an individual trying to board a plane. It can't tell a security guard whether the item is plastic explosives, a medical device or vinyl money belt, but it can show exactly where to physically look in order to determine its nature.

The People Portal II by design allows airport security to body-search for all detected objects quickly and without interpretive operators.

Another people-friendly advantage of the PPII is that it can scan shoes, hats and gloves for potential threats while they are being worn.

During the scanner's development and because it showed most promise, in 2006 the CCAT program stepped in with additional funding. "The CCAT funds certainly contributed to many of the processes from a financial and product development perspective," said Lew. "This advanced the commercializing steps and now we're almost ready to launch the People Portal II into the market. CCAT has also been active in networking and seeking new prospects for us within the government and elsewhere."

PPII will be ready for proof-testing by the FAA in their Atlantic City labs by the beginning of 2008. If this testing is successful, PPII could be appearing for trial runs by the TSA in airports and in other secure facilities, such as corrections facilities, government buildings and high tech centers later that year.

The system can also be used to detect contraband entering a building and potentially stolen items leaving a building. Via joint venture partnerships with door manufacturers, PPII is expected to ultimately evolve into a portal in its own right, as a very "modest", unobtrusive and otherwise unremarkable pass-through doorway with its own built-in security screening.

In the often problematic world of airport security screening, it's a step in the right direction.

from this link