Pencilbeam X-ray technology for more effective luggage inspection

Published 24 March 2008

New luggage screening technology investigates suspicious material by penetrating the luggage with a pencilbeam X-ray; new approach reduces instances of false alarms

The term “airport security” does not have to be synonymous with long lines, delays, and random suitcase inspections which in one instance led Al Gore’s possessions to be dumped out on the tarmac. Says who? Ze’ev Harel, CEO of Israeli company Xurity. Harel has developed a new technology which will make security checks at the airport more effective and therefore faster. Xurity, which Harel founded in 2003, is part of an incubator run by the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. Harel has an extensive background in X-ray technology, with Xurity being the latest in a series of projects. Harel explains that the current security checks at airports are inefficient, because the X-ray machines in use often cannot distinguish between innocent and hazardous materials. “Many innocent materials as well as hazardous materials have the same characteristics,” Harel told ISRAEL21c. For example, toothpaste emits the same signals to the machine as the explosive RDX. Compact discs have the appearance of explosives to the machines, while other examples of innocuous objects that appear dangerous to current X-rays include cheese, sugar, and salt.

The result, says Harel, is that in airport security there is a high rate of false alarms since so many objects appear hazardous. Security officers are constantly confronted with a difficult choice: Whether to open many pieces of luggage and cause delays, or to put a piece of luggage onboard the plane while it is still suspicious. Each choice carries a severe disadvantage. “The process is inefficient, takes a long time and is actually dangerous, because [security people] may put a piece of luggage on the plane which contains hazardous material,” Harel comments. Harel’s technology works directly with the existing system, connecting to the screening machines and getting information on which specific areas of the luggage appear suspicious. The machine then investigates the suspicious material by penetrating the luggage with a pencilbeam X-ray, which gives the screeners what Harel calls, an accurate “fingerprint” of the material. “Each material has its own ‘fingerprint’ and we actually check the exact material in the luggage,” explains Harel. “We can tell exactly which material it is.”

Harel intends that his technology will be connected directly to existing systems, so that it will not take up extra space in the airport. He also considers it a high priority that it work fast, to keep the process of security efficient. Harel also points out that this technology should not be limited to airports; rather it can be used in any setting where there is a need for security, such as government buildings or crowded areas. “We are currently in the latest stage of demonstrating the prototype,” says Harel, who adds that the technology should go on sale in a year or two. “Our main aim is to become the standard in airports. No other screening system is actually checking the material itself.”