OCTOBER 24--A technology designed to rapidly identify hidden weapons, explosives, and other contraband--even plastic, ceramic and other nonmetallic weapons--through clothing is the cornerstone of a new company formed to commercialize the technology for a variety of security applications. Unlike current metal detectors, the system is designed to detect plastic and ceramic weapons, and other nonmetallic contraband. The technology, which uses millimeterwaves to generate holographic images, was developed by the US Department of Energy (DOE) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to scan airline passengers as they pass through airport security checkpoints.
PNNL is operated for the DOE by Battelle, headquartered in Columbus, OH. Battelle has licensed the technology to SafeView Inc., a new corporation based in Menlo Park, CA (www.safeviewsystems.com/). Under the terms of the licensing agreement, SafeView will establish and maintain a product-development office in Tri-Cities, WA.
The holographic imaging system is distinctly different from current surveillance systems that rely on metal detectors, x-ray imaging and, in some cases, strip searches. Metal detectors cannot screen for plastic or ceramic weapons, plastic explosives or other nonmetallic contraband, while x-ray imaging subjects people to potentially harmful ionizing radiation.
"We believe that the imaging system has enormous potential for use in screening people at points of entry to mass transit systems, including airports, subways and trains; border crossings; government installations such as courtrooms, military bases, prisons, embassies and office buildings; crowded public places such as sports arenas, concert halls and museums; and commercial buildings," said Mike Lyons, chairman of SafeView's board of directors. "While the technology was developed to identify dangerous objects or contraband that people might bring into a facility, we believe it also could be used to protect against theft by identifying concealed items that people might try to remove from facilities, ranging from museums to nuclear plants," added Doug McMakin, a PNNL engineer who was a principal developer of the technology.
Looking much like a conventional metal detector, the system projects ultrahigh frequency, low-power radio waves onto the front and back of the person being screened. These waves--known as millimeter or centimeter waves because they have wavelengths of about one centimeter--penetrate clothing and bounce off the person and the items he or she may be carrying.
A sensor array captures the reflected waves and sends the information to a high-speed image-processing computer. The computer analyzes the information and produces a high-resolution, three-dimensional image from the signals that allows an operator to screen for suspicious materials.
The security scanner has its roots in a three-dimensional holograph imagery technology program that was established at PNNL in the 1970s to develop nondestructive evaluation technologies for nuclear reactors. In the mid-1980s, the FAA became interested in the technology's potential for scanning people passing through airports and began funding research in 1989.