Similar to the CT scanners used in hospitals to detect diseases and irregularities in the body, TSA’s new baggage screening machines reveal detailed images that could eventually eliminate the need to remove electronics and liquids from bags.
Using the same technology that hospitals use to screen patients, TSA is now testing out computerized tomography (CT) scanners at screening checkpoints to better detect prohibited items in carry-on luggage. Tampa International is among the first in the country to use one of the new scanners, located at Airside C, and the technology is designed to speed up the screening by allowing passengers to leave electronic devices in bags.
“This is actually the same technology that we’ve used for years to screen checked baggage, but the machines have been too large and heavy to have at the checkpoints, until now,” said TSA regional spokesperson Mark Howell.
When a bag enters the screening device, an x-ray camera spins around the conveyor, taking hundreds of clear images of the bag. The result is a three-dimensional view of the contents that can be turned, filtered and even cut down into slices. With three-dimensional capability, the new system makes detecting threats much easier and that means fewer time-intensive secondary bag checks.
“Think of it as comparing a map to a globe,” said Howell. “The old screening system creates a two-dimensional image. This machine gives us the ability to turn it 360 degrees and get a better look at the contents.”
The software that analyzes the images is improved as well. Its sophisticated algorithms recognize potential threats and highlight them. Should it be necessary to do secondary screening, the agent knows exactly where to look in the bag. The screener can also filter out images of electronics on the screen, which allows travelers to leave devices in their bags. Eventually, even liquids will be allowed to remain in carry-on bags.
Tampa is among only about a dozen airports in the country to have the machines.
“We love testing new technology in Tampa,” said TSA spokesperson Mark Howell. “Not just because it’s a busy, growing airport, but because its design makes it so easy on us.”
The new machines weigh in at nearly 7,000 pounds. While the high capacity freight elevators at the airsides have made installation easy, other airports have required the use of cranes to install the equipment. And while the new device is currently at only one of TPA’s 27 screening lanes, more units are expected in the next year.
Overall, Howell says that this is one of the best advancements for the TSA in years.
“Passengers love it. Screeners love it. Better detection capabilities for us, and faster screening for the traveler. It really is a win-win.”