The end of airport security misery?

Scanner spots bomb ingredients in carry-on liquids to speed up security checks

  • Engineers in Oxfordshire developed the scanner which is on trial at 65 airports in a bid to make identifying liquids carried in hand luggage easier
  • Insight100 analyses liquid contents of bottles in 5 seconds without opening them and could speed up airport security queues
  • Scanner uses a technique called Rahman spectroscopy to determine the chemical make-up of a liquid by analysing scattered light
  • Technology is shortlisted for prestigious MacRobert engineering award 
Decanting perfume and make-up remover into tiny clear bottles to carry onto a plane has become as much a part of holiday packing as squashing too many outfits into a suitcase.
But the procedure of showing hand luggage liquids – which leads to lengthy queues at security gates and countless expensive potions being confiscated – could soon become a thing of the past.
A new scanner can analyse the liquid contents of bottles without opening them and could enable people to carry more liquids again – and get going on their holiday more quickly.
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Robotic mixologist: New scanners (pictured) on trial at 65 airports can analyse the liquid contents of bottles without opening them using laser technology and could enable people to carry more liquids again - and get going on holiday more quickly

Robotic mixologist: New scanners (pictured) on trial at 65 airports can analyse the liquid contents of bottles without opening them using laser technology and could enable people to carry more liquids again – and get going on holiday more quickly

HOW DOES THE SCANNER WORK?

The Insight100 uses a laser to determine the chemical composition of liquids in non-metallic containers up to three litres in size without opening them.
It uses a technique called Raman Spectroscopy to determine the chemical make-up of a liquid by analysing scattered light and recognising patterns made by different materials.
The scanner works by firing a laser into the liquid at different angles. A small proportion of light penetrates the surface of the liquid and bounces back to give the scanner data.
It then subtracts data about the container from the overall reading to leave it with a faint signal from the liquid. It cross-checks the remaining information with a library of dangerous liquids. And all this takes just five seconds, which can cut airport queues.

A total of 65 airports including Heathrow and Gatwick have bought the scanners by Cobalt Light Systems, which are not much larger than a microwave.
The machines use a laser to determine the chemical composition of liquids in non-metallic containers up to three litres in size without opening them, separating harmless ingredients from those like hydrogen peroxide that can be used to make bombs.
Since 2006 when there was a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights, holiday makers have had to decant liquid essentials into clear bottles holding less than 100ml, leading to extra hassle in airport security queues and a huge amount of waste.
Stansted airport fills 20 large bins with confiscated containers every year and Heathrow racks up 2,000 tonnes a year.
Bag it up: Since 2006 when there was a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights, holiday makers have had to decant liquid essentials into clear bottles holding less than 100mls and stow thin in plastic bags (pictured), leading to extra hassle in airport security queues and a huge amount of waste

Bag it up: Since 2006 when there was a plot to blow up trans-Atlantic flights, holiday makers have had to decant liquid essentials into clear bottles holding less than 100mls and stow thin in plastic bags (pictured), leading to extra hassle in airport security queues and a huge amount of waste

Paul loeffen, CEO of Cobalt Light Systems told The Times: ‘The aim of airport authorities has always been to get back to the state of normality as it was in 2006. But that meant meeting certain detection standards. 
‘The bombs were made from concentrated hydrogen peroxide [which is hard to differentiate from water] and chapatti flour. It’s very scary stuff.’
However, the new scanner would have been able to easily tell the difference between water and hydrogen peroxide and it is hoped that it will enable airports to remove the existing hand-luggage liquid ban over the next few years.
The Insight100 uses a technique called Raman Spectroscopy to determine the chemical make-up of a liquid by analysing scattered light and recognising patterns made by different materials.
The method has been used to identify solid materials for years, but the Oxfordshire-based firm has enabled it to be used to spot differing liquids.
The Insight100 (pictured) uses a laser to determine the chemical composition of liquids in non-metalic containers up to three litres in size without opening them - separating harmless ingredients from those like hydrogen peroxide that can be used to make bombs. It does this in just five seconds

The Insight100 (pictured) uses a laser to determine the chemical composition of liquids in non-metalic containers up to three litres in size without opening them – separating harmless ingredients from those like hydrogen peroxide that can be used to make bombs. It does this in just five seconds

The Insight100 works by firing a laser into the liquid at different angles. A small proportion of light penetrates the surface of the liquid and bounces back to give the scanner data.
The machine then subtracts data about the container from the overall reading to leave it with a faint signal from the liquid. It cross-checks this information with a library of dangerous liquids. And all this takes just five seconds, which can cut airport queues.
The technology’s reliability and low false alarm rate also significantly reduces the cost associated with delays, missed flights, confiscations and extra personnel required to manage current security processes, according to the Royal Academy of Engineering.
The scanner is nominated for the Academy’s MacRobert Award, which is the most prestigious and long-running engineering prize in the UK.
Experts think the science behind the device could also be used for non-invasive cancer screening, detecting counterfeit goods and food analysis in the future.
A long-haul queue: The technology's reliability and low false alarm rate significantly reduces the cost associated with delays, missed flights, confiscations and extra personnel required to manage current security processes (pictured), according to the Royal Academy of Engineering

A long-haul queue: The technology’s reliability and low false alarm rate significantly reduces the cost associated with delays, missed flights, confiscations and extra personnel required to manage current security processes (pictured), according to the Royal Academy of Engineering

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