New Generation of Scanners Could Eliminate Need for Laptop Ban

By Jonathan Spira on 12 June 2017
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The recent threat of an expanded ban on the use of laptops and other larger personal electronic devices, following the original ban on bringing such devices into the cabin on flights from multiple so-called Muslim-majority countries, has loomed on the minds of travelers who cannot bear, oftentimes for very legitimate reasons, to be separated from their laptops and tablets for long flights.

Widening the scope of the ban would have a drastic impact on travel, especially for business travelers who need to be able to work during flights and would be severely inconvenienced given that other remedies are at hand.

Since the idea around terrorism is to create fear and distrust in the public as much as actually undertaking attacks, the threat is significant. In the meantime, terrorists are becoming increasingly sophisticated in many respects although many recent attacks were more of the brute force variety.

Airports, airlines, and governments nonetheless have to do everything they can to combat various threats with the least impact on the traveler. Removing personal electronics from more than a handful of flights each day would significantly affect overall travel. Any technology that would be used to screen electronic devices would have to be fast, easy to use, easily deployable, and have a very low false positive rate.

At least one company, San Diego-based One Resonance Sensors, has developed a scanner that could easily be deployed at airport security checkpoints to detect explosives concealed in electronic devices.

The engineers at ORS, as the company likes to be called, adapted an existing scanner they supply that uses nuclear magnetic resonance to scan bottles containing liquids.

The company modified the scanner to use nuclear quadrupole resonance or NQR to scan personal electronics and the result, the MobiLabES, has been validated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration is currently evaluating it for use in the field.

Greg Holifield, an ORS co-founder, explained further:

“This particular technology, NQR, is well pointed towards this kind of device screening. It’s a chemical-specific detection technique that’s compact because airport space matters,” he explained. “It’s portable so it can be deployed in screening lanes and at the gate.”

The MobiLabES device is similar to current explosive trace detection technology, Holifield said. “While trace looks at the outside of the device, this looks at the inside.”

There are myriad benefits of such technology, if given final approval. Travelers will be able to travel with their devices and the scanner would eliminate the need for passengers to power up their electronics to demonstrate that they are not decoys filled with explosives.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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