from the February 2008 issue

Firm to detect bulk explosives

A new Israeli company is developing a system to cut the number of airport security false alarms and identify bulk explosives in luggage, the chief executive stated. "The problem with existing systems is that (the number of false alarms) can reach 40 percent in some places," Ze'ev Harel, the chief executive officer of Xurity, was quoted in UPI in a telephone interview. He added that, for example, on flights where people tend to bring food products in their baggage, such as flights to and from India or within the United States around Thanksgiving, the food is often mistaken for explosive material by existing security systems and the human inspectors.

Xurity plans to offer a device that will complement the scanning devices and systems that airports already use, Harel said. "(Our machine) can check and reveal very accurately exactly what's in the suitcase."

That includes triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, Harel added. Peroxide-based explosives are especially difficult for most airports' security systems to pinpoint, and as such they are extremely popular with terrorists.

Beyond that parameter, Harel was reluctant to describe exactly which explosive materials the Xurity machine would detect, since it is still in development.

He estimated that within 18 months, the company would have a few devices placed in a few airports. Xurity was established in 2003, but began working in earnest in July 2007. The company is part of a technology incubator run by the Technion -- Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. In Israel, incubators are a popular way to get startup companies off the ground -- the incubator provides facilities, and sometimes guidance and funding.

In July, the company attracted its first outside investment, of $800,000. At the moment, the company is not actively seeking more investment capital, Harel said, but he added that within six months he expected the firm to add to its roster of investors.

Xurity joins a list of other Israeli companies looking to streamline the explosives-detection process in airports (and public transportation, stadiums and other security-risk venues). Acro, Scent Detection Technologies and TraceGuard, to name a few, all work in this realm.

"All those companies that you mentioned detect traces of explosive material," Harel said when asked what distinguishes Xurity. In other words, other technologies are looking for evidence that a person has handled explosive material or that a bag has come in contact with it.

However, the Xurity technology works in "bulk detection," Harel explained. "Terrorists can hide (explosive) material without leaving traces around -- today, the person who prepares the explosive isn't the same person who packs the bag, isn't the same person who transports the bag, and isn't the same person who takes it on the plane," he said. This way, the person and the outside of the bag are free from the traces that these other technologies detect -- all the explosive material is hidden inside.

The entire airport-security market has been going high-tech as terrorism threats increase. Last year Business Week featured some of the technologies that have been developed since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The publication quoted Jack Riley, a homeland security expert with the RAND Corp., as saying that "explosive detection will be among the greatest challenges facing (the U.S. Transportation Security Administration) in coming years."

Some of the other developments on the market include trace portal machines, sometimes called puffers, which look like metal detectors. "When a passenger stands on the threshold, the machine fires brief jets of air at him and then tests for traces of explosives. The technology can also be used to detect other substances like narcotics," the report noted.

Other airports have started to employ backscatter X-rays. Though these quickly and easily detect banned objects, they also penetrate clothing, raising serious privacy issues. Xurity's Harel emphasized that the goal of his company's system is called "alarm resolution" in the industry -- that is, protecting passengers but not delaying them with false alarms and lengthy checks. "The problem will only growi," he said.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report February 2008

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