Possibly the stupidest and most ineffective security measure at airports these days is the liquids ban, which has inconvenienced hundreds of millions, cost untold amounts in lost purchases, generated mountains of landfill (confiscated liquids and their containers are normally considered hazardous waste and are not recycled) and, to our knowledge, saved no one. After all, terrorist plots tend to be foiled either long before they get to the airport, or by passengers on the plane; and knowledgeable folks have written about how incredibly difficult it would be to mix up a liquid bomb in an airplane bathroom. But there is hope! A scanner developed for medical applications is now being tested in European airports.
Cobalt adapted Raman spectroscopy for airport security by developing the Insight100, which is about the size of a microwave oven. When inspectors place a plastic bottle inside, a laser sends pulses into the container; a camera then captures those photons that managed to slip past the plastic, interact with the molecules in the liquid, and drift back out. Cobalt scientists have tailored their device to recognize the telltale patterns of scattered light associated with all the substances on the European Union’s threat list. When one of these materials, such as hydrogen peroxide or nitric acid, turns up, the Insight100’s screen flashes red. Water, shampoo, and that duty-free bottle of gin generate a green light.
The scanner’s accuracy has been confirmed repeatedly in the laboratory. Ongoing tests at major European airports are focused on documenting its efficiency; Matousek promises the Insight100 can perform its molecular pat-down in just five seconds. Now about that irritating shoe-removal routine…
I’d just like to point out that here in Europe, “that irritating shoe-removal routine” has long been done away with. (Or at least, it has in all of the airports I’ve flown through.) Dare I hope that Europe will also be on the cusp of getting rid of that ridiculous liquids ban?
And if it does, how ironic that I just bought a bunch of really cool, geeky little travel bottles designed specifically for airline travel. It’s Murphy’s Law: the moment you spend money on something, it becomes unnecessary.
I should have bought those bottles long ago!