As summer officially kicks off, many people are preparing to travel for vacations, to visit loved ones, or for business. To make these trips seamless and safer, the Science and Technology Directorate (S&T) is developing, implementing, and ensuring the effectiveness of cutting-edge screening equipment and protocols that help protect the public and keep security lines moving. Soon, new S&T-funded screening technologies will be available that will do this and more, while also supporting first responders and the dedicated Department of Homeland Security (DHS) staff tasked with ensuring each step of your trip is smooth sailing (or flying … or driving).
As travelers pass through border crossings, ports of call, airport checkpoints, and various precautionary measures in both federal and private venues, their safety and wellbeing are constantly ensured through various forms of screening technologies that have one critical goal: to identify and alert the proper authorities to potential threats. And, while these technologies do their jobs very effectively, it is important to ask the question: “How can we continue to make these technologies better?”
To answer this question, S&T has teamed up with Xoran Technologies, LLC, to develop a one-of-a-kind, compact, 3D X-ray scanner.
“DHS staff and first responders in the field need imaging capabilities that will enable them to safely, effectively, and efficiently scan and detect hidden explosive devices, such as bombs or improvised explosive devices (IED), that can be easily concealed in a small container or bag,” said S&T Program Manager Karen “Maua” Johnson. “The 3D X-ray could potentially help us meet this critical security need by greatly enhancing the ability of our frontline operators to find and intercept these dangerous devices before they can be used to harm the general public.”
The 3D X-ray is a user-friendly, portable, durable, prototype imaging tool that uses a combination of both 2D and 3D computed tomography (CT) imaging capabilities to quickly and accurately detect the presence of explosive devices and related components in backpack-sized containers or bags—without needing to open them.
“The 3D X-ray stands out from other existing screening technologies because of how multi-functional and adaptable it is out in the field,” said Xoran President David Sarment. “It is designed to quickly perform any type of X-ray scan—no matter what a first responder might be looking for, what environment they’re working in, and what level of detail they might need.”
Built to be the size of a roller bag when disassembled, and weighing in at 70 pounds, the 3D X-ray scanner can be used by one or two first responders and taken anywhere it may be needed in the field. The 3D X-ray can either be carried to a small container or bag of interest via a remote-controlled robotic truck or be manually wheeled there by a responder. Once on site, it can be assembled; placed on an accompanying tripod and gantry; positioned for use; powered up; and synced with a laptop for wireless operation—all within five minutes.
“The 3D X-ray scanner has a number of unique capabilities,” explained Sarment. “If a responder feels that only a simple scan of a container or bag is necessary, they can utilize the 3D X-ray’s traditional 2D X-ray function to quickly take basic images of it. However, if they decide that they need more detailed imaging, they can utilize the gantry to rotate the 3D X-ray as needed and shoot more complex images—such as series (or sets) of 2D X-rays, partial 3D reconstructions, and complete 3D CT scans.”
The 3D X-ray’s ability to take CT scans is its most cutting-edge feature. When the 3D X-ray is used in CT mode, it operates very similarly to a medical CT scanner and takes hundreds of X-rays (up to 600) at different angles while the gantry rotates it a full 360 degrees around a container or bag of interest. The software associated with the 3D X-ray then processes this data and quickly compiles a detailed rendering of the contents inside the container or bag, providing vital information revealing whether a bomb or IED, along with any associated components and parts, may be concealed in its contents.
Preliminary testing data from Xoran’s lab indicates that the 3D X-ray has the potential to be a promising screening tool at a wide variety of security checkpoints. However, before it is implemented in the field and commercialized, Xoran’s team is working to finalize two prototypes of the scanner and deliver them to S&T at the end of September. S&T will then place these prototypes with two law enforcement groups for further pilot testing in the field. Feedback from this testing will be used to improve the 3D X-ray and prepare it for the marketplace.
Johnson noted that in addition to being useful to DHS frontline staff and first responders, the 3D X-ray could also be utilized in other fields and venues.
“Should this technology be commercialized, it has the potential to be effective in many other settings, such as courthouses, sporting arenas, correctional facilities, government buildings, and any other highly-trafficked areas where the security and safety of the public are of the utmost priority.”