Plane passengers could soon be scanned for bombs as they swipe their boarding pass, a Japanese company said, unveiling the world's first explosive-detecting departure gate.
Yesterday engineers from hi-tech firm Hitachi showcased a machine that blows a puff of air at a passenger's hand as he scans his pass. It then sucks in that air - along with minute particles blown off the hand - and instantly analyses for the presence of any explosive substances, said senior chief researcher Minoru Sakairi.
All it takes is about one to two seconds, a short enough time to keep people moving through the gate and onto the plane, he said.
"This allows screening of all passengers and can make air travel safer," Sakairi added.
The device is intended as an extra layer of security on top of existing measures, such as metal detectors, pat-downs and x-ray scanners, he said.
The gate is most effective in finding those who may have hidden non-metal-based bombs on their bodies, like the man who concealed plastic explosives in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009.
"Since the Detroit incident, searches on individuals have become more stringent … This boarding gate should serve as an important tool to scan particles on all passengers," Sakairi said.
Explosive materials are highly adhesive and can stay for some time on anyone who has handled them, Hitachi researchers said.
They said the technology can also be used at train stations and government buildings, although they acknowledged the machine also picks up those who legally work with chemicals with explosive characteristics, such as farmers using fertilisers and angina patients who take nitroglycerin.
The company plans further experiments before deciding whether to commercialise the prototype device, Sakairi said.