Hold Baggage Screening: Three manufacturers of EDS discuss current technology, look to the future

Sept. 8, 2003


By Jodi Prill, Associate Editor

Hold Baggage Screening

Three manufacturers of EDS discuss current technology, look to the future

As airports continue to research and examine the explosives detection equipment (EDS) that will be necessary to meet Transportation Security Administration requirements for hold baggage screening, equipment manufacturers continue to enhance existing technology as well as explore new avenues. AIRPORT BUSINESS magazine recently spoke with representatives from InVision Technologies, Inc., L-3 Security & Detection Systems, and Smiths Heimann regarding current deployments and future possibilities.

CTX 9000 from InVision Technologies, Inc.

InVision is the manufacturer of the TSA-certified CTX machines. David Pillor, senior VP of marketing and sales, explains the CTX 9000 is designed to be integrated into the baggage system. As airports automate the security process and move toward in-line screening, he says many of the CTX 2500s and CTX 5500s, designed as freestanding units, will be replaced by the CTX 9000.

Pillor says the CTX machines scan baggage for explosives by using "CT scan cross sectional images" and can process some 500 bags per hour.

One advancement InVision is exploring is reducing the false-positive rate of the machines. "A false-positive rate is the number of times out of 100 that a machine finds something in a bag that's suspicious, Pillor says. "Our false alarm rate is about 20 percent.

"We are developing improved software algorithms that would take that false alarm rate down maybe as much as in half. We use post-detection classifiers, or PDCs to analyze electronically with the computer every false alarm to further rule them out. This software will be tested by the TSA, and that will probably happen between now and the end of the year."

InVision purchased Yxlon, a German security technology firm, which provides a complementary technology to CT scanners called x-ray diffraction. "We will install those [as part of an in-line system] and the alarm bags from a CT will go to an Yxlon machine. This machine has a very low false alarm rate and actually does a chemical analysis of the threat area in the bag to confirm if it's a false alarm or a real alarm. It will run about 250 bags per hour."

InVision is currently in a design process that, if successful, would create a retrofit that could increase the speed of the CTX machines within the next two years, according to Pillor. "So as airport passenger load grows, we want to be in a position to have the machines processing more bags."

L-3 has a number of models for hold baggage screening. According to Paul Hurd, technical marketing manager, the fastest and most easily integrated of these is the eXaminer 3D 6000, which was specifically designed to be a high-speed, high-throughput in-line x-ray inspection system.

"The technology is based on computer tomography," Hurd explains. "It's unique in that it uses a thin beam and a helical scan - basically, you're able to take many slices in a single rotation and you never stop this rotation. As the bag moves down the belt, the rotation is taking multiple slices at the same time. You don't have to stop and start the bag within the tunnel to take individual slices. In one continuous pass the operator has all the slices available to them instantaneously and they can call them up one at a time. The 3D aspect will allow you to view the bag from any angle."

This machine does not need a human operator, Hurd says. "At that point, the machine is making a 'go/no go' decision on its own. It's looking for the specific explosive material the TSA is looking for. From that moment on, what is done with that information is up to the protocol of TSA. In one instance, the protocol could be regardless of what an operator may or may not think. If the machine has found an object it does not like in the bag, that bag undergoes further scrutiny with, say, a chemical analyzer. In another instance of the protocol, you could say, once the bag has been scanned, you do have an image the operator can look at to try to resolve that image - determine that it is not a threat. So, depending on what the TSA protocol is, the machine can be used either way."

There is another version of CT that L-3 is currently employing, which Hurd refers to as "the little brother of the 6000." The eXaminer 1000 was developed under a program called ARGUS with the FAA before TSA was created. "The difference is the 1000 is designed to be a standalone machine," Hurd says. "It's relatively low in throughput at about a little more than 50 bags per hour. The detection performance is the same, meaning it's certified (TSA)."

Another machine developed under the ARGUS program is the VCT30. "Instead of using a helical scan," Hurd says, "this uses a slicing CT scanner that has been combined with a single view dual energy x-ray system. If we get out of the certified realm, there's another category of systems that most of the rest of the world uses called AT (Advanced Technolo-gy). We basically took the best of the AT machine and combined it with CT to give you the best of both worlds. The VCT30 is TSA certified, stand-alone, and has a relatively low throughput - 78 bags per hour. "However," Hurd adds, "there is a program right now to turn the VCT30 into a VCT60. Basically it will speed it up - 30 is the speed that the CT rotates at, so we're going from 30 rpm to 60 rpm. This allows us to take twice as many slices in the same period of time. The VCT60 should get us to about 120 bags per hour. At about that level, a standalone machine is operationally acceptable for low-throughput airports."

Patricia Krall, VP of strategic development, says L-3 is particularly looking at ways to increase the detection rate, while decreasing the false-alarm rate. "We continue to look at new technology," she says, "but a lot of it's in the very preliminary stages."

Krall adds that the company is exploring ways to integrate existing technology to "address the TSA concerns about limited airport space at checkpoints and in the baggage rooms. We want to integrate and reduce the footprint to provide additional security without impacting the airport footprint," she says.

The EDtS from Smiths Heimann, not currently certified by TSA for use in U.S. airports, weighs less than and is about two-thirds the size of a CTX machine.SMITHS HEIMANN According to Mark Laustra, managing director of aviation business development for Smiths Heimann, the company has developed a "high-speed, multi-view x-ray system with three fixed generators. We have not been tested formally by the TSA, but we're in the pre-certification process." The Smiths Heimann product, called EDtS (Explosive Detection tomography System), is different from the L-3 and InVision products in that it has three generators that are fixed and it gathers its information from those three generator's five detectors, which provides five different views. "We're looking for the atomic profile of the bag's contents and the density information," Laustra says. "The bag comes through the machine - it never stops - and takes about six seconds. Therefore we're able to scan a lot more bags per hour. The system was designed to scan up to 1500 bags per hour." Like L-3 and InVision, Smiths Heimann is looking for ways to improve throughput, without compromising accuracy. "Some airports have expressed an interest in having our system, including Denver which made a request to the TSA to install our system in what the TSA is now calling a pilot program." The pilot program is expected to begin soon, but Laustra did not have any specifics. The EDtS is designed to be in-line, but can be used stand-alone, Laustra says. Smiths Heimann has yet to set a commercial price for the EDtS, but he estimates the range will be between $600,000 and $800,000, depending on quantity purchased. The machine weighs less than the CTX machines and is about two-thirds the size overall. The technology is proven technology. "We get the same information as the CT, but we get five views of the bag and they are 3D images and we put those together into one view." The HDX (Heimann Diffraction X-ray), which provides material identification and alarm resolution by means of energy dispersive x-ray diffraction measurements, is another Smiths Heimann explosives detection system. "This system is used to analyze objects that have already been alarmed by the EDtS," Laustra says. "It has much slower throughput, but it will tell the screener whether or not the object that alarmed in EDtS is honey or chocolate or some type of explosive. It's not an imaging system, it uses the measurements of the diffraction process to tell the screener exactly what's inside the bag." Laustra says the company is currently working on "marrying the EDtS and HDX so you have one solution in one box. We're doing that in conjunction with the TSA; we're in the proposal stage right now."
TSA Places EDS Order with InVision
The Transportation Security Administration has ordered new CTX 9000 DSi explosives detection systems from InVision Technologies, Inc. for integration into the baggage handling systems of U.S. airports. The delivery order for the new systems is valued at $54.8 million and is an initial order under a broader three-year agreement with the TSA. InVision expects to ship all units under the initial order during the third and fourth quarters of 2003.