millimeter wave scan

Millimeter Wave “Camera” Has Potential to Reduce Need for TSA Pat-Downs

When University of Missouri professor Reza Zoughi went on sabbatical in the late 1990s, it was with a mission of sorts: to create a useable real-time millimeter-wave monitoring device.

A colleague of his had come up with a rather clunky version of the technology in the late ’80s, Zoughi said, that required the user to immerse the object in water, which proved rather impractical for most applications, Zoughi said.

Fast-forward a decade or so, and Zoughi has improved the invention. It can “look” through nonmetallic materials, much as the controversial TSA scanners do, to capture 30 images per second. Far from requiring immersion, the system is now much smaller in size and displays its output digitally. It runs for several hours on a laptop battery.

“It became clear to me that the core technology could be modified and expanded to get to the point you have seen – and it only took about 12 years to get there,” he said with a laugh.

Where Zoughi’s “camera” differs from TSA scanners is in its method of processing the millimeter and microwave signals that are scattered back by the object.

“The process is very different of how the signal is captured and made into an image. In our case, no mechanical scanning is done; everything is done electronically,” Zoughi said. This, he explained, allows the device to create images rapidly, creating a camera-like scanner.

While Zoughi has many other applications in mind for the camera – including cancer screening and home and infrastructure inspections – he said it also could be used to reduce the number of pat-downs in airport security lines and to speed up screenings.

 “The benefit of this is that you don’t have to stop, tell someone, ‘Please don’t move,’ and then create an image,” he said. “They can be moving and the images are generating.”

Neither TSA nor the Department of Homeland Security could be reached for comment on the system’s potential for use in screening lines.


About the Author

Laura Williams is content development editor for Security Products magazine.

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