This Tri-Cities technology may save you from taking off your shoes at the airport | Northwest

The inconvenience of taking off your shoes to go through airport security can become nothing but a reminder.

Instead, departing passengers could step onto a small platform on which electromagnetic waves are used to search for objects hidden in shoes that could pose a threat on board.

Two seconds later, sooner than the passengers can put their shoes on again, the security check would be carried out.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland has licensed the technology for the shoe scanner it developed to Liberty Defense Holdings, a Georgia-based hidden weapon detection company.

The Department of Energy’s national laboratory developed the original millimeter-wave holographic scanning technology, which has been used at airports around the world for 15 years to examine departing passengers for weapons or explosives hidden under their clothing.

The technology was in development as early as 1993, but the September 11, 2001 attacks brought new urgency to airport security and funding of the project.

In collaboration with the US Department of Homeland Security, researchers in Richland have now expanded and expanded the functionality of the original scanners.

The result is a next-generation, high-resolution scanner that can detect even smaller threats with fewer false positives, according to PNNL.

In doing so, they adapted the same technology to check passenger shoes while they were being worn, instead of putting them in a plastic container and sending them through an X-ray machine.

Faster and better scanning

Just months after the 9/11 attacks, Richard Reid boarded an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami with homemade bombs in his shoes that would have crashed the plane if detonated.

During the flight, crew and passengers noticed that he was trying to ignite the fuse and he was restrained without detonating the bomb.

The new shoe scanning technology could potentially accelerate the passenger screening process by 15 to 20 percent, said Bill Frain, CEO of Liberty Defense Holdings.

“Streamlining security processes while detecting threats and protecting people is a win-win endeavor,” he said.

PNNL’s improved full-body scanner, HD Advanced Imaging Technology, has also been licensed to Liberty Defense Holdings.

The technology can provide higher resolution images, which should mean more potential threats are detected with fewer false positives than the original technology now used in airports.

“Reducing false positives and the secondary scans they trigger means less direct contact between travelers and security guards,” said Dave Sheen, who manages the millimeter wave technology program at PNNL.

Liberty Defense Holdings plans to eventually incorporate shoe scanning technology into the base of next-generation full-body scanners.

“Ultimately, the ultimate goal would be to move through a tunnel that shields you as you move towards the airport gate,” said Mark Jones, a PNNL electrical engineer.

Senior writer Annette Cary reports on Hanford, Energy, Environment, Science and Health for the Tri-City Herald. She has been a news reporter in the Pacific Northwest for more than 30 years.