Wednesday, June 22, 2011
A smarter, yet relatively inexpensive, security screening technology requires no human intervention to detect explosives, according to its developers. Recall how psychedelic black lights make tiny particles glow that are invisible in normal illumination. Now researchers at the University of Florida have patented a similar method that automatically detects the tiniest traces of explosives using harmless UV (ultra-violet) lights similar to black lights.
The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has created a $3 billion market for sophisticated screening equipment, and yet a printer cartridge filled with explosives, originating in Yemen and bound for the United States, was only intercepted in Dubai by virtue of a tip to intelligence services. Now a University of Florida invention, which is currently being commercialized by Delta R. Detection, is claimed by its inventors to be able to automatically detect and flag explosive laden cargo, including that U.S.-bound printer cartridge.
"Nobody has tried this before us," said Thierry Dubroca, a University of Florida postdoctoral research associate who is also the CEO of the Delta R. Detection startup now gearing up to license the patented technology. Its first licensee, Proxitronic Industries AG, will manufacture the scanner for use in Europe and by the TSA in the United States.
More than 625 million people travel annually on commercial aircraft after having their baggage screened by x-rays, metal detectors and millimeter-wavelength scanners that pinpoint objects inside their bags or under their clothing. The most sensitive detectors today use spectrometry, but require the surface of cargo to be swabbed with a liquid that picks up particles, or "puffed" with air to dislodge particles from bags. The University of Florida technique, on the other hand, can be used without touching bags or people as they go by, even when there are no operators present.
Called “differential reflectometry” by its inventors, which include professors Rolf Hummel (emeritus) and Paul Holloway at University of Florida (both now members of the management team at Delta R. Detection), the technology requires no human operators. “The goal for our technology was to make speedy decisions at security checkpoints and to minimize the involvement of human beings," said Hummel
By shining a harmless UV black-light on luggage as they move past on a conveyor belt, or on people as they walk through a portal, completely automated detection can be implemented. Scanning the reflected light for specific frequencies reveals the chemical makeup of any detected residues. Each type of explosive has a specific type of emission spectra, a unique fingerprint, which algorithms can update as new types of explosives are utilized by terrorists. If any such fingerprints are detected, an alarm is sounded to alert nearby security personnel.
The patented technology was developed with $1.4 million in federal, state and private money.
Posted by R. Colin Johnson at 1:30 PM