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Tuesday, 18 September, 2001, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK
Scanner 'could boost air security'
The device in action
The gadget is straight out of a James Bond film
A scanning device developed in Britain could revolutionise air security in the wake of the US atrocities.

It is thought the hijackers of four planes which crashed into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania were armed with ceramic craft knives and explosives, neither of which would have been detected by conventional metal detectors.

But QinetiQ, the company formed following the privatisation of the UK Government's Defence Evaluation and Research Agency, says its Millimetre Wave Camera would detect weapons which escape the notice of metal detectors.

The device allows moving image scanning as passengers walk through an S-shaped route a few yards long.

We've actually come up with dozens of potential applications

Jeremy Attree
Because people will be scanned as they move, queuing time at airport security need not be increased.

The company says items such as ceramic knives, which contain no metal parts and are sharper than a conventional razor blade, will show up on the scan.

The technology stems from thermal imaging research done to help soldiers and pilots see through fog and cloud and conduct operations in poor weather conditions.

It works by passively detecting naturally occurring radiation as it reflects off different objects.

Metal objects completely reflect naturally occurring radiation, with knives or guns hidden under clothing or in baggage appearing on the scanner's display as distinct illuminated shapes.

The device in action
The device picks out a ceramic knife hidden under this newspaper
The human body reflects 30% of the naturally occurring radiation around it, and this enables the scanner to detect a person's body shape beneath their clothes, showing up concealed objects.

"We've actually come up with dozens of potential applications, from guiding airliners to their boarding gate in zero visibility to spotting people carrying concealed weapons going into football grounds" said Jeremy Attree, Commercial Director of QinetiQ's Sensors and Electronics Division.

Current conventional security scanners, such as those installed at airports, can check a maximum of 16 or 17 people per minute, while the new device will cope with up to three times this amount.

The system has been tested at Eurotunnel's Calais terminal, where it was used to uncover asylum seekers hiding in the back of lorries.

A Eurotunnel spokesman told BBC News Online: "We are happy to confirm that the system has been on trial at Calais and has produced results but it was not being used simply to find illegal immigrants."

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