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Laser scanner may allow passengers to bring liquids on planes again

INSIGHT100 scanner

Since the 2006 Transportation Security Administration (TSA)’s ban on liquids in passenger carry-ons, travelers nationwide have faced the issue of getting anything from bottled drinks to expensive skincare tossed in the trash before being allowed to board the aircraft. Combine this with the rising fares of checking bags, bringing liquids on a flight has become an increasingly frustrating and expensive task. That’s why a company in the United Kingdom developed a laser scanner that could potentially assess the danger level of liquid containers so passengers may once again carry liquids onboard.

The INSIGHT100, created by Cobalt Light Systems, utilizes laser light to perform a process called Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy, or SORS. The screening begins with a security personnel placing a container inside the machine and letting light do the work. This microscopic scanning method shines certain spectra of light onto the test subject and reads the wavelengths that bounced back to determine if the liquid is deemed potentially dangerous. Because different substances reflect different arrays of wavelengths, the INSIGHT100 is programmed to sort the safe liquids from harmful ones. The library of liquid SORS signatures can also be updated to scan for other substances should authorities want to add new security threats in the future. Still with me? If not, you can watch Cobalt’s video demonstration here.

So far, developers report the machine’s false alarm rate of less than 1.5 percent, which is rather impressive. The scanner can also see through clear, colored or opaque plastic or glass containers measuring up to three liters, or 0.8 gallons, and is able scan each container within a mere five seconds to maximally expedite the process. While the INSIGHT100 will not be able to determine exactly what kind of liquid is inside the container, this technology could help both passengers and the TSA feel safe about having liquids inside carry-on luggages.

The INSIGHT100 was recently approved by the European Civil Aviation Conference to use as an alarm resolver in conjunction with the required pre-boarding X-ray machines, or as a standalone screener. If the scanner is successful in Europe, we hope to see it make its way to North America in the very near future.

But while passengers may rejoice over this piece of information, retailers may want to rethink their sales strategies. Since the post-9/11 regulations, a new market expanded for companies to create miniaturized products measuring less than 3.4 ounces, the maximum size of liquids allowed onboard. These smaller items generally cost consumers a premium for the relief that their liquid products have been previously measured to guarantee passing through security. Travel accessories companies have also begun to make stylish clear pouches or toiletry sets that are carry-on safe. And of course, let’s not forget the high prices of beverages inside airport terminals after the security checkpoint. With the possible introduction of this laser scanner, the INSIGHT100 might just foil the way retailers have been banking on the new regulations.