3-D holographic scanner for better airport security

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories in the US have created the Personal Security Scanner, a new wideband millimetre-wave holographic imaging system for use at airports.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have created a new wideband millimetre-wave holographic imaging system for the US Federal Aviation Administration.

The holographic imaging system, dubbed the Personal Security Scanner, has the ability to detect weapons made of plastic, ceramics, and metal that are concealed under a person’s clothing. PNNL are confident that the Personal Security Scanner will also maintain passenger-handling efficiency and ensure a high degree of personal privacy.

The Personal Security Scanner is the result of PNNL’s original goal to develop a harmless, visual-scanning device that could identify weapons within about 10 seconds.

Although X-ray imaging systems could possibly do the job, airline passengers would need to be subjected repeatedly to potentially harmful ionising radiation. The holographic imaging system’s millimetre-wave scanning technique is said to be harmless.

The Personal Security Scanner uses harmless, ultrahigh-frequency radio waves with relatively large wavelengths in the same range as radar and satellite signals. These low-power waves can penetrate clothing and other non-metallic objects.

‘To put it simply, the system rapidly scans objects and sends reflected signals into a high-speed image processing computer,’ said Douglas McMakin, a PNNL engineer who helped develop the technology. ‘The computer produces a high-resolution 3-D image from the data.’

With the system’s success came questions about its potential to display the unclothed physical features of a person being scanned to the operator running the machine.

Since 1997, PNNL scientists have been addressing this potential privacy issue by reprogramming the system to give the operator a view of only concealed items, and not the person’s image.