Future-proof body scanners give impetus to airport security


It is essential that the aviation industry provides passengers with travel journeys that are pleasant and safe – but it is not an easy task. Increasing passenger numbers, an evolving threat landscape and limited human resources pose great challenges for airports to counter the new threats, concealments and tactics that are employed by perpetrators who seek ways to infiltrate airports and cause damage to global aviation. Incidents like the foiled “underwear bomb plot” called for global airports to increase their security posture in terms of people screening.

Thanks to technological breakthroughs, an increasing number of airports have introduced Millimeterwave (MMW) body scanners as a preferable alternative to invasive pat-downs. Systems like the ECAC Standard 2 approved and CAAC-certified NUCTECH MW1000AA, which will be showcased at the Global Aviation Security Symposium (AVSEC 2019) at ICAO Headquarters from 18 to 20 September 2019, are changing passenger experiences. Security checks have improved tremendously, allowing for better security and greater efficiency.

Advanced technology

Through special electromagnetic properties, MMW can penetrate common barrier materials, such as cloth, paper, and plastic and detect concealed contraband under clothing. When compared with X-ray backscatter imaging, MWW imaging is nonionizing, so it is more suitable for personnel surveillance. MMW imaging systems can achieve spatial resolution at millimeter levels and give a good image contrast for the inspection of concealed weapons. Active imaging systems utilize MMW sources to illuminate targets, the amplitude and phase of the reflected signal are recorded through heterodyne mixing technique.

Contrary to the traditional metal detector, the MMW body inspection system is more versatile, enabling the operator to detect and locate the presence of metallic and non-metallic threats that are concealed beneath clothing. The system can detect a wide range of contraband items that include sharp weapons, smuggled cash, bombs, ceramic knives and 3D printed guns.

Higher throughput

The latest MMW body inspection system features high throughput and ensures a rapid and efficient and comfortable experience for passengers at a checkpoint. A single scan is completed within two seconds with passengers standing in a relaxed stance, eliminating the need to raise arms or turn around. The user-friendly posture can greatly ease passenger anxieties and frustration with the screening process.

As a result, the simplified screening process could increase the throughput to be as high as 400 passengers per hour. Coupled with cabin baggage computed tomography (CT) scanners and automated screening lanes, checkpoint throughputs could be greatly improved to alleviate the increasing queues that plague airports around the world.

Privacy protection and safety

To fully protect travellers, privacy concerns are also fully taken into consideration. Instead of showing the actual picture of the scan, MMW body scanner displays alerts on a generic mannequin, helping the operator to locate suspicious items without revealing personal details of the inspected passenger. Potential threats can be detected and highlighted, in some cases even with an indication of the possible threat type to assist operators to conduct a targeted secondary search.

Because the MMW does not use ionizing radiation, it poses no health risks, allowing for its use as an ideal solution for primary screening in general. According to a study presented at the 2018 European Society of Cardiology Congress, MMW body scanners are also safe for patients with pacemakers and defibrillators.

Advanced algorithms

Blending with artificial intelligence (AI) opens the door to improved security effectiveness and enhanced operational efficiencies for people screening. The automated target recognition (ATR) algorithms equip the MMW body scanner with a robust, evolving and adaptable detection capability to alert an ever-expanding list of targets.

With the application of deep structured learning, ongoing ATR development could make minimal divestitures a reality in the near future. Because there would be automatic clearance of benign items, passengers can enjoy a frictionless process, without the need to remove belts, keys, accessories and other daily belongings, allowing for them to breeze through checkpoints.

Future trends

The application of Milimeterwave has ushered us into a time of secured passenger screening with ease and dignity. Looking ahead, new technologies that will further streamline the screening process and improve the passenger experience are on the horizon.

Standoff screening systems, like the latest terahertz technology, allows for real-time imaging of moving passengers. It works by receiving the terahertz waves that are naturally emitted from the human body at a distance of 3-8 meters, away from any potential threats, allowing for safe range to react to any dangers detected.  The scanner can screen walk-by passengers in real-time for suspicious items hidden under clothing, including metals, plastics, ceramics, liquids, gels and powders, etc., increasing the throughput to over 1000 passengers per hour.

With trials and adoptions well underway, the Terahertz solution is gaining much traction. Placed outside the security checkpoint, the Terahertz scanner could be integrated into surrounding facilities, whether it be at the terminal entrance, check-in counters or on any walk-through hallways. Covertly or overtly, it could serve as an extra layer of security with minimal interruption to current operations, and it offers a  significant boost to the security effectiveness in screening passengers.

In a nutshell, innovative body inspection technologies like Milimeterwave and Terahertz could help airports establish comprehensive and robust security schemes and promote seamless travel with desirable passenger experience today, and well into the future.

About the contributor

Professor Zhiqiang CHEN is CEO, President and Chairman of NUCTECH. Founded by a group of physicists in 1997, NUCTECH was an offshoot of China’s prestigious Tsinghua University. Joined by a team of PhDs and field-leading scientists, engineers, and software developers, NUCTECH has successfully transformed theories into cutting-edge security scanners and solutions. As a leading supplier around the world, NUCTECH equipment is installed in more than 160 countries and regions.