Good Waves for People-Screening

Smith’s Detection’s eqo is configured to create a natural portal entrance into an open area in front of the imaging panel. (Smiths Detection)

Stefan Aust, Director of Global Product Management Security Products for Smiths Detection, discusses the challenges faced at people-screening checkpoints.

Smith’s Detection’s eqo is configured to create a natural portal entrance into an open area in front of the imaging panel. (Smiths Detection)

Passenger checkpoints are both complex and logistically challenging as vital security requirements compete with need for efficient passenger transit and customer comfort.  Security is inevitably associated with personal inconvenience because the measures to effectively detect hidden weapons, explosives and drugs, while maintaining high throughput, still involve multi-layered procedures.  Typically a mix of metal detection and pat-down searches, passenger screening has worked well in combating threats that were historically significant in hijacking aircraft.  However, the need to raise the effectiveness of people-screening has become more evident as terrorist methods have evolved.  Imaging technologies that detect concealed objects are now more widely tested and deployed at airports as a means of providing fast and comprehensive people screening for both metallic and non-metallic objects.  Whole body imagers or body-worn threat detection systems (BDS) are becoming more widely used.  However, the technical approach must meet a multitude of requirements as high detection accuracy and throughput have to be taken into consideration along with tight security standards and processing specifications.  For this approach to be successful, the technical solution must also fit into the existing checkpoint layout and process with minimal disruption.
eqo with a new design
These objectives drove the development of the Smiths Detection eqo system, an active millimetre-wave people screening system.  In the spectral region associated with millimetre-wave frequencies, the transparency property of clothing material is used to provide images that reveal objects hidden under garments.  Millimetre-waves are non-ionising and therefore inherently safe as the energy levels emitted during an eqo screening are well below international health and safety guidelines.  Streamlined and ruggedized in its new design, eqo produces high-definition, live imagery in a way that fits within the typical constraints of current checkpoint layouts.  Availability and reliability are also key factors for any checkpoint equipment, and these qualities were paramount in developing a set-up that can deliver extended operational up-time with minimal service and maintenance requirements.
At checkpoints where space is a premium, eqo’s small footprint dimensions give a clear advantage when integrating one into existing security channels.  Occupying little floor space, it is designed to be easily configured into current lanes without requiring major alterations to standard layouts and operations.  The system is configured to create a natural portal entrance into an open area in front of the imaging panel where both security staff and passengers have full freedom of movement in direct communication with each other.
Groundbreaking technical process
The Smiths Detection eqo system uses a groundbreaking process to overcome many of the limitations that image-based people screening has encountered to date.  The innovative use of a flat panel, reflect array technology – a kind of millimetre wave ‘mirror’ – has resulted in a compact product format that delivers the superior image quality required for the highest detection standards.  This technology marks the evolution of millimetre wave imaging products from mechanically scanned to electronically steered systems with the resulting improvements in reliability, footprint and image quality.
The active millimetre-wave technology and large aperture panel that eqo uses to generate images combine to create video-like, high-resolution images for the screening operator.  Even objects of the dimension of small coins are visible in the images.  Screening staff have full control over the image sequences to facilitate analysis and detection and eqo’s new design features also include integrated self-diagnostics, excellent service access and a higher level of modularity.

The remote operator can communicate back to an attendant at the checkpoint e.g. via an audio link to convey any follow-up actions arising from the analysis of the image. (Smiths Detection)

Privacy is key

In order to preserve the privacy and fundamental rights of the individuals being screened, Smiths Detection has built and configured eqo with a series of features that ensure the integrity of the screening process.  These have also been integral to the product’s development from the earliest specification, taking into account the experience of field trials of comparable systems, as confirmed by independent studies.  While Smiths Detection has designed the product to include a range of privacy enhancement features, there are a number of privacy aspects related to the deployment of people screening equipment that can only be addressed directly by security authorities or airport operators.  With this in mind, Smiths Detection has put considerable thought into how it addresses the respective concerns and has produced a series of recommendations for potential users of imaging systems for people screening.
The standard eqo deployment includes a remote operator workstation.  The person being screened and the resulting image should not be linked or associated in any way.  To this end, the screener who analyzes the images is located at a remote position completely removed from the checkpoint area.  Typically, this image analyst will be in a separate room where there is no possibility of establishing a line of sight to the checkpoint area and the data is sent to a remote display that can be hundreds of metres from the checkpoint.  The remote operator can communicate back to the checkpoint attendant, (perhaps, for example, via an audio link) to convey any follow-up actions arising from the analysis of the image, (such as to give an instruction if there is an object detected in the image). All data associated with the image capture is processed and transmitted to the remote analyst station in a proprietary format, making it impossible to reconstruct image information in the event of unauthorised access to the data.
Another layer of privacy protection is provided through a range of software level privacy filters.  These filters process the image data to add privacy features such as face blurring that create increased anonymity for the person being screened.  Other image modification features that enhance privacy protection without diminishing the detection capability are currently under research.
Although the technology requires operator assessment of the images as they are produced, this is increasingly being supplemented with assist and automation functions where background software running special algorithms pinpoints and highlights anomalous items on the body.  Silhouette representations or standard video images of the passenger are presented to the operator with the position of any concealed object highlighted by the automation software.  An added benefit of this approach is the ability of the software to distinguish between organic and inorganic objects, and to indicate the material characteristic of a hidden item on the user display.
Promising eqo field trials
A number of locations currently have eqo on test and so far Smiths Detection has received very positive customer feedback from the field trials that have been completed since its market introduction earlier this year.  Its superior image quality was especially appreciated as providing the most accurate detection results.  In addition, eqo’s capability to produce live imagery in real time has helped to significantly speed-up processing times at passenger checkpoints.  Customers have also highlighted the advantages provided by its small footprint and the ease of installation, which enabled checkpoints to be set-up very quickly.  Furthermore, from the security assistant’s point of view, eqo’s handling and operational modes were considered a clear plus.
With this advanced people screening system, Smiths Detection provides a next generation solution that easily adapts to the inspection requirements that have grown in-line with the workload and procedures at security checkpoints over the past years.  Minimizing passenger inconvenience through a less physically intrusive inspection process than the traditional pat-down search, the new eqo is a further advancement in checkpoint technology and will continue to bring benefits to airport operators and passengers alike.