The Energy Department Is Developing A Scanner So You Don’t Have To Take Shoes Off At Airport Security

Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory – the same people who brought you millimeter wave scanners at TSA checkpoints – are developing a new scanner so you won’t have to take off your shoes at airport security.

The project is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate as part of their Screening At Speed program and blasts these same millimeter waves at your feet, cutting down on the shoe carnival for flyers who lack precheck and reducing the time in line for passengers that no longer have to take their shoes off and put them back on. This new technology is being tested by TSA and they already have an exclusive commercial partner.

Here’s how it works,

[I]n this case, we stand on a low profile platform, and then the data is collected by antennas underneath that platform.

…[F]or the body scanners that scan around you, obviously, those are intended to look through the clothing. And to detect objects that are underneath the clothing for the shoe scanner, we have to couple very closely to get the energy into the shoes and the multiple layers that make up the shoe and the tread patterns. Anything else that may be ordinary shoes. So yes, it’s a much more complex problem. And we wanted to extend the technology that we’ve developed for the body scanning application, to see if it was applicable for commonly worn types of footwear.

…Plus, with people standing on it, some people are heavy, some are light. And so there’s different amounts of pressure on top of this thing, plus the sheer number of people stepping over it, there’s a kind of a mechanical strength and durability factor. Is that part of the work that you’re doing also?

…This requires a unique system that would look up into the bottom of the shoe, so that we can understand anything that’s concealed within the shoe. any modifications that may be happening there or concealed items.

Estimates are that the shoe carnival adds 15% – 20% to the time it takes for airport security. Walking through the shoe scanner, though, takes two seconds per person. There’s currently a prototype system in testing at the Transportation Security laboratory.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Anything that adds consistency to the TSA process is appreciated. What I hate about the current process is I never know what’s going to be expected of me under TODAY’s rules; shoes on or off, laptops out or left in bags, showing boarding passes or not, etc??

  2. But does it mess with pacemakers?

    My guess is that 99% of the time it won’t, but that 1% will mean those with pacemakers shouldn’t use these. That’s unfortunate.

    For everyone else, this sounds like a real step forward!

  3. Nice move by our government. God knows we give the government tons of grief for every problem, even when it’s not the government’s fault and we should likewise show appreciation when they invent new technologies that make life easier.

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