New Liquid-Scanning Device

Could Revolutionize Airport Security

DEC. 2, 2013, 11:30 AM
coke in liquid scanning machine

The problem with liquid explosives, besides being explosive, is that they often look just like non-explosive liquids. Since 2006, to protect against the threat of those explosives, people traveling by air in America have been limited to one quart-sized bag for liquids, each in a container no larger than 3.4 ounces.
That size limit has, at best, a questionable impact on safety, but a new device being developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory could eventually make the scanning process less painful. Called the MagRay, it’s designed to scan liquids and quietly differentiate between the safe and unsafe. And now Los Alamos has released a video showing off the tech.
The MagRay essentially combines an X-ray and an MRI to differentiate between, say, a soda, and something more suspicious. Liquids are placed into the scanner, which, according to LANL researcher Larry Schultz, can give a measure of how “sludgy” a liquid is, an indication of what might be inside the can or bottle. Another measure is X-ray density, or how difficult it is for X-rays to show through the liquid. With that data, the machine paints a fairly distinct portrait of the liquid, and a simple computer interface shows the most important information about the liquids in a giant colored circle: red for unsafe, green for safe, and more details presented alongside.

The research is supported by the Department of Homeland Security, and it’s easy to see how an airport security checkpoint in the future could employ a liquid-scanning device like the MagRay.
The device has been in development since at least 2007, but it still may be a few years before MagRays can scan Thanksgiving travelers’ homemade gravy.

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