Skip to comments.Shoe scanners speed up airport security
Posted on 01/05/2007 1:47:30 PM PST by NormsRevenge
ORLANDO, Fla. - While thousands of travelers queued up daily at Orlando International Airport, yanking off their shoes and shoving them through X-ray machines, a select few got to avoid the hassle during the latter part of 2006 and passengers at four other airports nationally will soon join them.
These travelers, who paid a $100 fee and underwent a background check to be part of a test program, bypassed the line and stepped into what may be a glimpse of the future they inserted a biometric identification card into a kiosk that scanned their irises and their fingerprints to verify their identity, placed a fingertip on an explosives scanning device and stood on a scanning platform that determined whether their footwear hid a bomb.
Operated by Verified Identity Pass Inc., a New York City-based company headed by Court TV founder Steven Brill, the GE Security screening kiosks will go into official use this month in Orlando and are expected to also begin operation at the Cincinnati, Indianapolis, San Jose, Calif., airports, and Terminal 7 at New York's JFK International Airport. Only the shoe scanner has received Transportation Security Administration approval for official use to date, so customers won't get the fingertip scan, at least initially.
"Wouldn't it have been nice if they had that system in Denver right now?" said painting contractor John Fox as he traveled from Florida to his snow-walloped, jam-packed home airport recently. Even though he only flies about three times a year, he said he would sign up if Denver's airport got the program. "It's giving up a little privacy for efficiency. I'm all for it."
While some might see the new system as first-class treatment for a paying few, analysts said this model will drive future advances in screening technology as those willing to pay for convenience spur development of machines that will eventually be used by all. It's a trend toward greater privatization of security technology development with the government taking the role of regulator.
"The kiosks are going to fundamentally change aviation security," said Matthew Farr, senior homeland security analyst for consulting firm Frost & Sullivan. "Up to now, you've been relying on the government. The government has been extremely slow to adapt to the next generation of security technology."
But experts can't predict when GE Security's latest technology will become commonplace because there are several obstacles standing in the way of widespread deployment. And there have been setbacks in similar programs for example, further rollout of GE Security's "puffer" machine, which inspects passengers for explosives residue at 37 airports, was recently suspended because of reliability concerns.
"It's going to be a long time because the technology is expensive and it's immature," said Tom LaTourrette, a physical scientist with the RAND Corp. "The shoes aren't that big a part of (the screening process)."
Unisys Corp. and EDS Corp., competitors of Verified Identity Pass, have participated in pilot projects at several other airports. All three companies are vying for business after the TSA transferred to the private sector the administration of its Registered Traveler program. Registered Traveler was authorized by Congress five years ago to give frequent travelers a more predictable, quicker screening experience.
Verified hopes to expand the Orlando program to 20 airports by the end of the year. With the TSA's recent approval of the shoe scanner developed in a cross-licensing agreement between GE Security a subsidiary of General Electric Co. and Australia-based QRSciences, Verified hopes many additional travelers will sign up at the $100 yearly fee.
Verified's customers still have to walk through a metal detector and place their bags in the X-ray machine, but the company says its 30,000 Orlando customers and another 5,000 who have signed up in advance for the programs at the four other airports are a testament to its quicker screening process.
Simon Bedford, QRSciences vice president of business development, said the shoe scanner applies old technology quadrupole resonance _that was used in the Vietnam War to detect land mines.
The shoe scanner uses AM radio waves to resonate the molecules inside shoes, creating a frequency that is unique to particular types of molecules. The device then compares the frequency to those of a range of substances, deciding if the traveler is just wearing shoes or something that could be an explosive. Al-Qaida operative Richard Reid tried to blow up a Paris to Miami flight using a shoe bomb in 2001, but he couldn't get it lit before a flight attendant and passengers subdued him.
Citing security reasons, GE Security and QRSciences won't talk specifically about how the technology stacks up against the standard procedure of removing shoes and placing them on the X-ray machine. They point to TSA approval as validation.
"We're confident that the shoe scanner can screen shoes," said TSA spokesman Christopher White, declining to elaborate further.
But it may be awhile before most travelers step onto the new shoe scanner.
First, GE Security's kiosks cost $200,000 each, making them too expensive for the government to buy for widespread use. Farr, the analyst, said the kiosk itself may never be adopted for use on the general public, but its components will likely be deployed piecemeal.
Another obstacle, Farr said, is the current requirement of a background check and biometric card. For the mass traveling public to accept the process, the machines will need to be able to read driver's licenses, which differ from state to state. For the system to work, a traveler's card needs to work at every machine at every airport.
Another consideration: The widespread use of technology may threaten the jobs of many TSA screeners a difficult pill to swallow for a government bureaucracy trying to compete for funding, Farr said.
In this photo provided by Clear Registered Traveler, two employees for Clear test our a shoe scanner at the Orlando International Airport in July, 2006. Registered travelers will be able to keep their shoes on while being checked at the ariport. (AP Photo/Clear Registered Traveler)
And does the scanner detect when one of the cleared, trusted travelers has a change of loyalty?
I used this 3 years ago in Atlanta.
If they don't start doing the single thing we all know needs to be done instead of adding one shotgun procedure after another, the "glimpse of the future" for plane flights looks like the long conveyor belt George Jetson groggily stumbles onto for his morning get-ready-for-work routine. Except that it would take four hours instead of ten minutes.
I long for the day when the only people flying are terrorists.
If Richard Reid was the shoe bomber....would a clown doing this be called a poo bomber....
and light shoelaces wouldnt work....there would have to be a different fuse system I dont want to think about...
Is there a problem officer?
Two kilos in a body cavity? That's a BIG body cavity!
I think the registered-traveler concept is a good one. It's reverse-profiling.
I disagree with the guy in the story that thought he was "trading privacy for efficiency". There's no privacy invasion in mere identification.
I don't care about it either. Identification is fine, I'm not hiding anything, I really don't care who knows who I am and where I'm going. For people who are worried about it, the important thing is to make sure that your government never becomes one that would make use of this technology to hunt you down (for example, the Marxist Islamic "Republic" of the United States).
When people get upset about this, I always say: blame the people who are really responsible. Muslims. We wouldn't be doing this stuff if it weren't for Muslims.
WRT identification: It's maybe even simpler. There is no right to anonymity in public when traveling in someone else's airplane.
But you can trust me, Sionnsar! I'm not like those others.
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