US Airports to Receive New Molecular Laser Scanners

Dennis Faas's picture

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is reportedly working on a laser scanner that could check airline passengers for security violations from 164 feet away.

However, the technology may require at least four more years of development before being ready for deployment.

The scanner works at the molecular level, giving it the potential to probe in far more detail than is possible with existing machines. The technology is being adapted for security scanning from use in both medicine and manufacturing.

The manufacturer, Genia Photonics, says its "Picosecond Programmable Laser" is able to identify cancerous cells in real time. It's also able to hunt out even tiny amounts of dangerous chemicals that have snuck into a manufacturing process.

Government Contracts Laser Scanner Maker

Last year, Genia Photonics was awarded a subcontract by a company that provides technology services to the DHS.

According to tech blog Gizmodo, DHS has initiated a long-term plan to install devices using the laser scanning technology at all airports and border crossings in the US. (Source:

Such a system would be far quicker and more accurate than existing airport scanners. In addition, the hardware is much smaller and thus more portable.

If current speculation is accurate, the laser scanners could be used to examine every passenger without the need to ask anyone to wait in line, or even slow down.

With such a capability, the new laser scanners could also be used at other venues; for example, sporting events and other large public gatherings where scanning people for security violations airport style, one-by-one, wouldn't be practical.

Airport Security Plan Raises Questions

The main use of the new laser scanner would be to find dangerous chemicals or explosives. However, there's already concern among some observers about how far such scanning could and should go.

For example, it's possible the scanners could be used to detect traces of illegal substances, like marijuana,  that don't pose a risk to crowded places.

Although possession of such substances violates laws in some locations, it doesn't pose an explosive or corrosive risk that could threaten flight security.

Nevertheless, many observers suggest the scanners will become a mainstay of security work in US airports sooner or later.

Gizmodo claims the scanners will be used widely within one or two years. However, the Department of Homeland Security reportedly told Fox News the devices were unlikely to come into use before 2016. (Source:

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