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.