New Scanner Can Detect Explosives in Shoes

Nov. 15--In the post-9/11 world of airport security patdowns, X-ray checkpoints and metal detectors, a subsidiary of one local company is working to streamline that process.

Quantum Magnetics, a Newark, Calif., division of Lakewood Ranch's GE Security, has developed the prototype of a Shoe Scanner that can detect explosive devices without passengers having to remove their shoes.

Steve Hill, GE Security Homeland Protections global communications leader, said the Shoe Scanner uses a technology called quadrupole resonance, or QR.

"The Shoe Scanner is a fairly advanced device that a person steps into, places his or her feet onto shoe-shaped pads and in a couple of seconds it scans for the presence of threat objects," Hill said. "We want to get to the point where we do away with the need for passengers to devest themselves of shoes or remove metal objects from their pockets."

QR uses magnetic fields to excite molecules inside an object, like shoes for example. The device then reads radio frequencies coming off the excited molecules and can detect the unique frequency of objects like knives or guns. The scanner is being tested in San Diego and is "near production-ready," Hill said. "We'd be able to have the product on the market in the not-too-distant future."

Hill said other companies are working on QR technology but none have designs as consumer-ready as those made by Quantum Magnetics. Hill added that it is still too early to estimate the cost of a Shoe Scanner for airports.

But Shoe Scanners remain a blip on the radar of airport security officials who say it could be years before they are seen in airports around the country. The Transportation Security Administration, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, has the final say over airport security devices, and spokeswoman Laurie Stover said the TSA's approval for the devices is a distant possibility.

"We're a long way off from seeing these shoe scanner devices," Stover said. "We're in the very early stages of exploration and we are evaluating technologies that will detect explosives."

Stover said it is hard to speculate on when the TSA will make a ruling on shoe scanners. "I know there's no time frame on this," Stover said.

Fred Piccolo, executive director of the Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, said one of his goals is screening passengers as conveniently as possible. Piccolo said shoe scanners could make the screening process even faster at the airport, where $3 million in added security over the past two years have reduced check-in times for passengers.

"Anything (TSA) can do to speed up the process while maintaining a high level of safety is a welcome change for this airport and others in the country," Piccolo said.

Piccolo said TSA officials briefly placed a device similar to the shoe scanner in the Sarasota-Bradenton airport last year. It was only to give passengers a glimpse of technology to come and it did not replace standard screening procedures.

The GE Shoe Scanner is part of a larger vision GE has for its Passenger Checkpoint of the Future, an integrated system of several checkpoints to expedite security measures and eliminate human error.

"Our goal is to make checkpoints better, drive down the cost of security and improve the passenger experience," Hill said.

Hill said a passenger checkpoint lab soon will be tested at San Francisco International Airport.

"The purpose of the lab is to work in conjunction with our partners at the airport to see whether these products have merit and to present them to the TSA," Hill said. "Nothing about this is intended for operational use without the involvement of the TSA and that's a long ways off."

<<Bradenton Herald, The (FL) (KRT) -- 11/16/05>>