Software detects difference between shampoo, explosives

A Virginia firm is in talks with the TSA over using its technology

You may think your new shampoo is "the bomb," but to an airport security guard looking at it under an X-ray machine, it may very well look like an actual bomb.

However, a Herndon, Va.-based company has technology that can help airport security screeners determine whether a container of liquid is an explosive as it passes through airport X-ray machines.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is in talks with Guardian Technologies International Inc. to use the company's PinPoint image analysis software in conjunction with airport X-ray machines to tell the difference between explosives and organic items such as shampoo, clothes and food in carry-on baggage, according to a company executive.

The technology could be good news for airport passengers who are unhappy that new TSA regulations mean they are no longer allowed to bring liquid items, including shampoo, water and perfume, onto airplanes. The move came yesterday after U.K. law enforcement officials arrested individuals believed to be part of a terrorist plot to bring liquid explosives onto a plane to assemble a bomb.

Guardian Vice President Steven Lancaster said PinPoint, which runs on a PC, can be hooked up to X-ray machines to provide in-depth image analysis of items as they go through. The technology uses algorithms to analyze images beyond the current capability of the X-ray screening systems, he said.

Today, all a security screener can tell through an X-ray machine is the density of the items going through, Lancaster said. "Based upon that density, the hardware manufacturers then colorize that image and place various levels of density into a color spectrum."

Lancaster said plastic items are in the green color spectrum, while the most dense items, such as those made of metal, will be more in the black and blue spectrums. Explosive items are in the orange spectrum, alongside organic items such as clothing, shoes and food, he said.

Guardian's PinPoint software takes X-ray images and uses "classic imaging technologies," such as spatial, domain and spectral analysis, to filter the images further and detect the difference between explosives and other organic items, Lancaster said. It also can detect whether an explosive is being hidden inside or behind an item that falls into one of the other color spectrums.

"When we bombard the image with our algorithms, we begin to differentiate or get a different signal from [an explosive] item," he said. "It's similar to DNA mapping of the genome."

PinPoint is currently being pilot tested in airports in Moscow and Caracas, Venezuela. Testing of PinPoint should begin in TSA laboratories in the U.S. within the next few weeks, Lancaster said.

He said he doesn't know how soon after PinPoint will be tested in U.S. airports, but it could happen in the next few months. "Hopefully, an event like today would provide a great sense of urgency to do this sooner rather than later," Lancaster said.

Related News & Opinion:

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon