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Microwave Camera Could Aid TSA Traveler Scanning

March 8, 2011



The media is in a tizzy over recent information found in Homeland Security documents suggesting the TSA might have planned to scan people outside of airports using covert mobile X-ray units (TSA denies testing of this technology, in a Forbes update). As a result, a host of hairy ethical and policy issues related to body screening and privacy are back in center stage.

Technologically speaking, however, scientists at the Missouri University of Science and Technology have at least some good news for the disheartened. They’ve developed a new portable camera that operates like the airport scanners, but which uses safe millimeter and microwaves rather than harmful X-rays. Beyond finding weapons, it could be used for easy, non-invasive detection of dangers from skin cancer to structural damage.

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The camera works by collecting up to 30 images per second of an object from different planes and distances away. These are transmitted to a laptop which puts them all together and creates a synthetically focused image of what was hidden inside. The whole system is small enough to be powered for several hours by a battery about the size of what you’d find in a standard laptop.

Currently, the patented camera operates only in a transmission mode, meaning the object being scanned must pass between the wave source and a collector. The team is working on a newer one-sided version that will work more like a video camera. In the future, they even hope to make a prototype that can display real time images from a scan in 3-D or as holograms.

Imagine standing next to your virtual braces in an airport. One ticket to the Twilight Zone, please.

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