Baggage inspection device

Air travel could run smoother in the future with a new technology that quickly determines whether unattended luggage is a threat.

The technology is called the Unattended Luggage Inspection System (ULIS) and is currently being developed by EADS Sodern, a subsidiary of EADS Astrium.

The suitcase-sized inspection machine works using neutron integration technology, explained Philippe Le Tourneur, chief scientist on the project at EADS Sodern.

When an object needs to be inspected, a fusion reaction will be initiated inside the machine’s neutron tube. The machine will then eject neutrons onto the suspected object. These neutrons will react with the atoms of the object and free gamma rays.

The machine’s gamma ray detector will collect these rays to help determine the location of all the atoms in the object.

When the mapping of all the atoms is complete, the machine transfers the information to a remote laptop computer and uses an internal database to identify the molecules and determine whether they are a threat.

Le Tourneur said the system can determine the presence of explosives that cannot be detected by X-ray systems or trace detectors.

‘Neutrons have the capability to penetrate objects such as bags,’ he added. ‘It is able to penetrate about 30 or 50cm into an object. Gamma rays are able to come out of the object with the same depth.’

Le Tourneur said neutron integration technology is well established but EADS Sodern are the first to miniaturise the technology so it can be used in a portable detection device.

He added that faster electronics and better processing power have now made this device possible.

The ULIS is still in prototype form, but EADS Sodern claims early tests have proven successful. The French civil aviation agency and the French atomic energy commission (CEA) demonstrated the technology can quickly detect explosives in luggage on a conveyor belt.

EADS Sodern also believes its technology has potential applications beyond airport security. The company claims it could be used to prevent illegal trafficking within maritime containers or the detection of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and toxic chemicals.

EADS Sodern expects to finalise the technical evaluation of the system and build an industrial prototype by the end of 2009.

Siobhan Wagner