May 21 - A scanner that can identify the chemical composition of liquids sealed within any non-metallic container is being trialled in European airports. The Insight100, made by UK company, Cobalt, could help end Europe's airport liquids ban, and has been shortlisted for July's prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering's MacRobert Award. Jim Drury reports.
Taking baby foods through airport security is a major headache for parents travelling with young children. But now there's a potential solution - the Insight100 scanner which can analyse liquids within five seconds, without the need to open containers. The scanner is on trial in 65 European airports, including here at Bristol, and its developers believe it could help end the eight-year global travel restrictions on liquids. Designed by Cobalt Light Systems, The Insight100 uses an improved version of conventional Raman Spectroscopy laser detection, says security vice president Ken Mann. SOUNDBITE (English) KEN MANN, VICE PRESIDENT OF SECURITY PRODUCTS AT COBALT LIGHT SYSTEMS LTD, SAYING: "The problem has been historically that you would need line of sight to the item that you're looking at or the material you're trying to analyse. With our technique, Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy, we can go through barriers, be they plastic or glass, coloured glass, cardboard, various materials, and we can see what's inside without having to open them." The device screens liquids, aerosols, and gels and can be used alone or in conjunction with x-ray machines. SOUNDBITE (English) KEN MANN, VICE PRESIDENT OF SECURITY PRODUCTS AT COBALT LIGHT SYSTEMS LTD, SAYING: "We shine a laser at the bottle and analyse the light that's coming back, compare that with a spectrum and a library of threat materials. If it's a threat we alarm and if it's not it's not. It's very specific, so we have a very high level of detection and almost no false alarms." In initial trials false detection rates were 0.5 percent. And airport security officer Lauren Inglis says it's easy to use. SOUNDBITE (English) LAUREN INGLIS, BRISTOL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT SECURITY OFFICER, SAYING: "You just put the liquid into the machine, close the door, and then in a few seconds it will clear." Hand luggage restrictions on liquids were introduced globally in 2006 after plots to detonate liquid explosives on board international airliners were uncovered. Pending European regulations envisage that emerging technologies will allow airports to end the ban by 2016. Bristol Airport Head of Security Chris Ware believes this machine could be the answer - and says his passengers are already reaping the benefits. SOUNDBITE (English) CHRIS WARE, HEAD OF SECURITY AT BRISTOL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, SAYING: "Traditionally before the Cobalt Insight100 came in, passengers, particularly young families traveling through, parents were required to actually test and taste in our presence 50 percent of the liquids, the baby foods...This process allows us to keep the product pristine." And it does so, says Ware, without compromising passenger safety.