by David Crane
david at defensereview.com
The SmartCheck Personnel Screening System, manufactured by American Science and Engineering, Inc. (AS&E) has been getting a lot of press, lately. SmartCheck is a high-tech airport security system / anti-terrorism system that utilizes a patented technology called Z Backscatter, which is based on the X-Ray Compton Scattering effect. The Z-Backscatter tech is interesting in that, due to its patented "Flying Spot" technology it can identify and highlight not only metallic objects (or objects containing metal, like guns and knives) and bomb-detonating wires, but also non-metallic materials that a standard metal detector would miss, like explosives, plastic weapons, and drugs, for example.
Objects containing metal have a high atomic number, and are referred to as "high-Z" elements. Non-metallic objects (including explosives, plastic weapons, and drugs) containing low atomic elements like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen are known as "low-Z" elements. The SmartCheck Z Backscatter tech will detect and highlight both "low Z" and "high Z" elements, so, in theory, nothing dangerous or contraband should get past the system.
Again, that’s in theory. We’ll just have have to see. We should have an idea of SmartCheck’s effectiveness very soon, as the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) is now conducting a…
pilot test of the system at Sky Harbor International Airport (or "SHIA"–now that’s an ironic acronym, huh? Interesting coincidence.) in Phoenix, Arizona to see just how good the system is, and just how well travellers/airline passengers will tolerate it. Smartcheck will be utilized as an optional secondary screening method. A "screenee" will be be able to choose between SmartCheck and a pat-down. The TSA has its own information page on Backscatter technology as part of its PR campaign promoting the technology, just to get us all prepared for it.
It should be noted that the SmartCheck Personnel Screening System terminal(s) at Sky Harbor will utilize a special algorithm which limits the invasiveness of Z Backscatter x-rays, so the person’s genitals will not show up in high detail on the operator’s screen. Without this resolution-limiting algorithm…well, let’s just say SmartCheck wouldn’t leave a lot tot he screener’s imagination. Z Backscatter is essentially the modern day, real-world working version of "X-Ray Specs", albeit in a larger, heavier, and less-mobile/non-wearable package.
Oh, and you’ve gotta’ pay to play. A SmartCheck airport security system (one terminal) reportedly costs approx. $100,000 a pop. Not exactly cheap, but the feds can certainly afford it, especially since the expense falls under national security and anti-terrorism.
Backscatter x-rays are supposed to have low-penetrative properties and only go to skin level. Since the x-rays don’t penetrate the body, they’re supposed to be perfectly safe. Let’s just hope the low-penetration Backscatter x-rays are as safe as AS&E and TSA claims they are, especially since SmartCheck looks very promissing as an anti-terrorism security technology.
Company Contact Info:
American Science and Engineering, Inc. (AS&E)
829 Middlesex Turnpike
Billerica, MA 01821 USA
800-225-1608 Toll Free
Screening Individuals with Backscatter X-Ray Systems (Health Physics Society)