from the June 2007 issue

Technology identifies explosives at airports

An Israeli start-up company recently wrapped up testing of a new automated checkpoint particle trace detector at Israel's primary airport, and the Transportation Security Administration wants to investigate the merits of the technology for identifying traces of explosive materials at U.S. airports.

"We are talking with TSA following what we are doing with the Israeli Airports Authority and the Israeli Security Agency, and I believe that TSA has already expressed an interest in that capability," said TraceGuard Technologies Inc. CEO Ehud Ganani. "We hope that before the end of the year, we will be able to test our machine in the U.S."

The CompactSafe device is designed to test bags and difficult-to-screen carry-on items, such as laptops, medical equipment, cameras and other electronic devices, for traces of explosive material.

TSA screeners working at airport checkpoints currently use small pieces of carbon to wipe the inside and outside of these items and then deposit the sampled material in a chemical analyzer to get a reading.

The current methodology is effective at capturing traces of explosives, but many passengers complain that the process is an invasion of their privacy, Ganani said. That is where the CompactSafe offers something different.

The device's apparatus resembles an outdoor propane grill with screened items placed underneath the hood, which is then sealed.

The CompactSafe uses a combination of air jetting, pressurization and vibrations to extract particles from the tested items without opening them up. The extracted particles are captured by a filter, which is deposited in the chemical analyzer.

In addition to sparing passengers the embarrassment of having their belongings opened up in public, the technology has the potential to save time.

The CompactSafe requires approximately 30 seconds to extract particles from a screened item, whereas rummaging through a bag can take several minutes, Ganani said.

The technology completed a three-week operational pilot program at Ben Gurion International Airport last month to test the performance and durability of the machine in a major airport.

Detection capabilities were tested separately at TraceGuard's research and development center in Petach Tikva, Israel. Out of roughly 1,800 items sent through the CompactSafe, 65 contained small amounts of explosive materials and 62 were detected (95 percent), Ganani said..

The technology is designed to work in unison with already-deployed X-ray and CT machines.

The CompactSafe costs roughly $50,000.
Trace Guard also has a couple more products in the pipeline designed to apply the same automated trace sampling technology for screening larger baggage and air cargo.

The CarrySafe, which is a larger conveyor belt-enabled baggage-screening device, could be out by the end of the year, Ganani said. The company is also working on CargoSafe, a product that would screen air cargo pallets using the same technology. Twenty-two percent of all air cargo in the United States is carried on passenger flights, but only a tiny percentage of it is inspected. The Transportation Security Administration also has a number of screening programs, including the "Known Shipper" program, which requires the vetting of shippers before they are certified.

Reprinted from the Israel High-Tech & Investment Report June 2007

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