Coming down the escalator at Denver International Airport, reality hit me like an overloaded carry-on bag to the head. The security line snaked around the stadium-sized Jeppesen Terminal. And it was hardly moving.
A new high-tech security scanner from the Massachusetts company Evolv Technology could potentially prevent painful bottlenecks like this - if it works. The idea: No more emptying your pockets, no more stripping down, no more watching the bin with your phone disappear from view. Just go through at your normal speed.
Evolv's pass-through scanners look like streamlined metal detectors, but they actually use the same millimeter-wave technology as current enclosure scanners. The difference: artificial intelligence.
Computing capabilities in the scanners allow them to process large amounts of information in a fraction of a second, and they have machine learning that quickly detects weaponry and explosives, the Guardian reported. When the scanner does pick up something, it sends an alert highlighting the suspicious spot on a photo of the person to a nearby officer's tablet computer.
Recently Evolv submitted an application for special temporary authority with the Federal Communications Commission indicating they want to test the scanners at several transit hubs in the United States including Union Station in DC, Metro Rail in Los Angeles, and Denver International Airport. Testing could start as soon as next month. The company, which received funding from Bill Gates, said its technology can scan 800 people an hour - that's more than twice the speed of TSA-approved systems like ProVision.
Even though I'm mostly sure the millimeter-wave scanners at airports now aren't taking naked photos, and want to believe that they're not doing terrible things to my body, I still loathe them. I feel uncomfortable spreading my legs and holding up my arms like I'm under arrest. I have momentary panic during an occasional false alarm. But the alternatives seem worse, so I submit.
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The Evolv scanners certainly sound less intrusive. In addition to ease of use and speed, they have portability, unlike existing monstrous airport machines. The company envisions their scanners being rolled out at transportation facilities, office buildings, museums, and other busy areas to add security or replace old machines, their renderings show. Luggage would still need to get scanned separately, though.
As with anything that promises so much, there's always a catch. That catch could turn out to be too many false positives, or it could be terrorists who figure out a way to subvert the machine's artificial intelligence, computer science experts told the Guardian. We won't know more until after the scanners get put through their paces in the real world. Just a bit more of a wait, folks. In the meantime, remove any laptops and make sure all liquids are in a quart-sized bag.