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Duke Technology Could Yield Quicker Airport Security Checks

A plane lands at Piedmont Triad International Airport.
redlegs21 via Flickr, Creative Commons

Researchers at Duke University are developing radio wave scanners that could dramatically increase the speed at which travelers are checked at security points in airports.

The scanners, which researchers say could be tested in as soon as 12 months for airport use, were one of the developing technologies that scientists showed three North Carolina congressmen in a tour yesterday of laboratories at Duke’s Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering.

“We’re trying to think of it as ways to build the checkpoints of the future,” said Professor David Brady, one of the scientists overseeing the projects. 

Unlike the boxes with scanners currently in use, the radio wave imaging machine would be set up in in a corridor so travelers could walk through without stopping, explained professor Daniel Marks. 

Scientists are developing sensor and imaging systems to scan items on passengers and luggage and determine the composition of a liquid in a container. Research is being done in partnership with other universities, including the University of North Carolina, and with funding from the Department of Homeland Security. 

Congressmen George Holding (R-Rocky Mount), David Price (D-Chapel Hill), the Ranking Member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee, and Richard Hudson (R-Concord), the Transportation Subcommittee Chairman, met with Duke President Richard Brodhead before they took a tour of the school’s Fitzpatrick Center and peppered scientists with questions about the real-world applications of their research. 

“We live in a dangerous world, and we need science and technology to keep pace with finding ways to keep us safer,” Holding said. 

Hudson said he was enthusiastic about the speed teams are working to make instruments available for public use. 

“I’m excited with what I saw here,”  he said. “There are a lot of integrated technologies that we can use where we can scan people with much less intrusiveness, and we can do an even better job at scanning for explosives and other materials.”

Correction: 11:03 a.m. Nov. 7, 2013

The original version of this article incorrectly stated Duke University researchers are developing x-ray scanners for use on airport travelers. Rather, radio wave scanners would be used for passengers and x-ray scanners for luggage. This article has been updated to reflected that.

Jorge Valencia has been with North Carolina Public Radio since 2012. A native of Bogotá, Colombia, Jorge studied journalism at the University of Maryland and reported for four years for the Roanoke Times in Virginia before joining the station. His reporting has also been published in the Wall Street Journal, the Miami Herald, and the Baltimore Sun.
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