Wednesday, February 18, 2009

mmWave Scanners make the News

Doing a little business traveling this week and so I'm being treated to a copy of USA Today outside my hotel room door and I have to say it's nice to see microwave (in this case millimeter-wave) technology making the front page of a mainstream newspaper. The article in mention "Scanners replace detectors in tryout" refers to a new scanning technology being tested out by the Transportation Security Administration at the Tulsa International Airport.

An experimental program that begins today will test whether the $170,000 body scanners could replace $10,000 metal detectors that have screened airline passengers since 1973. The scanners should be capable of detecting non-metallic weapons such as plastic and liquid explosives, which the TSA considers a major threat. The scanners bounce harmless "millimeter waves" off passengers' bodies and use no radiation. The Journal had reported such technology several times over the past 2 years (see our cover story from October 2007 (A Radar-based Concealed Threat Detector) and our Executive Interview with Mark Hebeisen from Endwave Corp. (Endwave supplies the millimter-wave front-end that is part of the system from L3 Communications)

Airline passengers will skip metal detectors and instead be screened by body scanning machines that look through clothing for hidden weapons. Critics of the technology raise privacy concerns because the passenger's images reveal outlines of private body parts (these will be blurred for machine operators).Security analyst Bruce Schneier, a frequent critic of the TSA, said the scanners should improve security but warned that they take longer than metal detectors — 30 seconds vs. about 15 seconds per passenger. "There will be pressure to do the screening faster, which will be sloppier," Schneier said.

Airports in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, Albuquerque and Salt Lake City will join the test in the next two months, TSA spokesman Christopher White said. Hopefully, the trials will be a great succuss. I would love to be able to travel again without having to undress for security.

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