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New airport scanner examines liquids

The latest airport security technology being developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory could open the door for airline passengers to bring their soft drinks and full-size shampoo bottles on board again.

Homeland security officials put the latest generation of the bottled liquid scanner to the test Wednesday during a demonstration at Albuquerque's international airport.

Everything from bottled water and champagne to shampoo and pink liquid laxatives were scanned to make sure explosives weren't hiding inside.

The device, about the size of a small refrigerator, uses magnetic resonance to read the liquids' molecular makeup, even when the substances are in metal containers. Within 15 seconds, a light on top of the simple-looking metal box flashes red or green, depending on whether there's danger.

The device is so sensitive it can tell the difference between red and white wine, and between different types of soda.

"What we're doing is really looking for the real dangers, like liquid homemade explosives," said Stephen Surko, program manager of the Homeland Security Advanced Research Projects Agency. "We're just real excited at the progress we're making."

The technology is still a few years from being deployed in the nation's airports, where fears of liquid explosives have stopped passengers from bringing more than small amounts of lotions and other toiletries in their carry-on bags. Surko said the lab will have to partner with a manufacturer, and the machines will have to go through testing and certification.

-- Associated Press

By Michael Bolden  | October 13, 2010; 6:59 PM ET
Categories:  Airports, Aviation  
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Comments

I wonder if this is going to go how the full-body scanner deployment went.

When they deployed the full-body scanners, they promised us that the new technology would save our time, by allowing us to be scanned with our coats on and with items in our pockets. Instead, the TSA screeners are forcing passengers to remove ALL items from our pockets, including non-metallic items, before walking through the scanner!

Instead of saving time, the full-body scan technology is wasting an incredible amount of time at the checkpoints, because travelers accustomed to walking through the metal detector with a wallet must return to the x-ray machines and deposit their wallets, handkerchiefs, and other items to be x-rayed before being scanned.

The TSA claims that the liquid scanning machines will allow us to bring full-size bottles of liquids onto airplanes, but that's not going to happen -- most likely, the TSA will continue enforcing the 3-1-1 rule, adding the extra step of scanning the ziploc bags in the new machine. The already ridiculous airport screening procedures will increase in complexity yet again.

Epic fail...

Posted by: stuckman | October 13, 2010 8:00 PM | Report abuse

Flying is a constantly increasing hassle due to the ever-shifting "security" rules and the TSA's incompetence. It takes twice as long as it used to, because of the time spent in "security" lines. And the airlines' bait-&-switch pricing and nickel-&-diming "fees" just add additional insult.

I now avoid flying anywhere unless the distance makes it absolutely necessary. It's worth the few extra hours to drive my little hybrid car wherever I need to go; I save money, can take anything (or anyone) I want along with me, have a car at my disposal at my destination, and most of all avoid the airport and airline mess. The air travel industry will have to make a lot of changes to get me back as a regular passenger.

Posted by: nan_lynn | October 13, 2010 9:42 PM | Report abuse

Fifteen seconds is a long time when you're standing on a cold floor in your bare feet. It could be used successfully in screening checked bags though.

Posted by: blasmaic | October 13, 2010 9:56 PM | Report abuse

A few weeks ago I was in security line at an airport. A woman passenger in front of me had two small, sandwich sized plastic bags with cosmetics, lotions, etc; all the items met the 3 ounce rule. But, the security agent made her combine all of the items into just one sandwich sized plastic bag. I guess that this--one plastic bag with 8 items instead of two plastic bags with 4 items each--makes us safer.

Posted by: drlatham22 | October 13, 2010 10:24 PM | Report abuse

This is hardly news. A company called Guardian Technologies has had this capability for about 5 years now:

http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9002347/Software_detects_difference_between_shampoo_explosives?taxonomyId=69&taxonomyName=it_in_government

Posted by: jbgh | October 13, 2010 10:53 PM | Report abuse

Oh, airport security.

It's funny, I almost always have two clear ziplock baggies stuffed with my little 3oz bottles. I put one in the bin with my carry on bag, then I put my shoes and jacket in the second bin, and my purse and second ziplock baggie in the third bin. No one is checking which bin(s) belong to individuals and no one has every said anything about my extra baggie.

I also think the 3oz rule is pretty stupid. We've scared ourselves into thinking we are 'safe'. To the TSA screening employee who passed on a job at McDonald's for the cooler uniform of the TSA, a travel size toothpaste tube filled with C4 would look pretty much the same as a travel size toothpaste tube filled with toothpaste. In reality, if you send both through together, the C4 would appear darker (aka more dense) than the toothpaste. But really, the TSA screener isn't going to notice.

I also take a Sigg aluminum water bottle filled with water or juice or soda when I travel. I just smile and say "the water fountain is cheaper than a bottle of water from the newsstand." No TSA screener has ever asked to open the bottle.

Posted by: FfxGal | October 14, 2010 2:21 AM | Report abuse

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