TSA Pilot Prompts a Hands-Off

Jodi Richards
Published in: 

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is constantly evaluating various technologies through pilot programs. One such effort, the Cambria pilot, is testing the use of computed tomography (CT) technology at airport checkpoints.

Analogic Corporation, which designs and manufactures medical and security imaging systems, has teamed up with TSA to provide the CT technology. Analogic also provides CT technology for Explosives Detection Systems (EDS) already deployed at airports around the world for checked baggage.

"It is very promising technology and something we’re pursuing," says TSA spokesperson Andrea McCauley. "It’s all about researching and looking and seeing how this technology will fit into our security matrix."

Analogic’s COBRA® (Carry-On Baggage Real-Time Assessment) machine was first deployed at Cleveland Hopkins International in August 2007. The system at Dallas/Fort Worth International (DFW) went operational in December 2007. A third airport, Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall, also had a COBRA unit for a short time before undergoing a checkpoint reconfiguration. According to McCauley, TSA has no current plans to expand the deployment at this time.


Facts and Figures

Project: TSA Pilot Program

Location: Cleveland Hopkins International Dallas/Fort Worth International

The Technology: Computed Tomography from Analogic Corp.

The Benefits: Fast throughput, high-resolution three-dimensional color scans of baggage and their contents; 360-degree view without removing items from bags

Why CT?


COBRA machines generate high-resolution three-dimensional colorized images of bags and their contents. They also include a bin return system to increase the efficiency of the checkpoints, notes Ed Kilborn, director of government programs and contracts for Analogic.

CT technology differs from traditional two-dimensional X-ray systems by providing multiple views for transportation security officers (TSOs). With a traditional X-ray, operators have only one image of the bag. If they cannot see something in the bag clearly enough or need a different view, they must shift the bag and rescan it or search by hand. CT technology produces a three-dimensional image, providing operators with a 360-degree view of the bag.

This also means passengers do not have to remove laptops or liquids and gels from their bags — eliminating a considerable "hassle factor," as Kilborn puts it.

If TSOs see anything of interest during a scan, they can select the item by boxing in the area on the screen and pulling the item out of the bag in the virtual rather than literal sense. They don’t have to actually touch the bag for further inspection.

Operators can also turn the bag any way necessary to get the best view of all items. "With this system there’s no rescanning," says Kilborn. "You can turn the bag upside down, backwards, any way you want. You have full visibility."

The added capability is proving popular with TSOs at the pilot locations. "The officers really appreciate the fact that it can slice the bags in the imaging," McCauley states. "And that they can virtually unpack the bags and pull out on the screen particular items and inspect them more closely without having to open the bag."

Increasing Throughput

If a hand search is necessary, that process is also made more efficient. The TSO marks the suspicious area and prints out a barcode that the hand search officer then reads at another machine. The unique code brings up the image of the bag and directs the hand search officer directly where to look. "It keeps the line going smoothly," Kilborn notes.

The COBRA system at DFW usually operates seven days a week, 12 - 15 hours per day, says Kilborn. He estimates 3,000 - 4,000 travelers’ bags are screened with it on a heavy passenger volume day.

"It does very well in passenger throughput because passengers are allowed to leave everything in the bag," he notes.


McCauley says the COBRA lines do often move more quickly than the traditional checkpoint lines. "It absolutely has its benefits and it is very convenient for the passengers," she notes.

The CT technology has worked "great" at DFW, she says, and has been well-received by both TSOs and passengers.

"[CT] is a superb technology in the sense that it does allow you to view images from so many different angles," she says. "The [CT] technology is something that we’re exploring for the future; where it will fit in the picture is yet to be determined."

Peter Harris, VP of sales and marketing at Analogic, notes that although the COBRA machine is slightly bigger than traditional X-ray machines, it fits easily into checkpoint locations.

The Human Factor

Deployments with the TSA pilot program have provided Analogic with some valuable feedback on the system, says Harris. One major lesson has been about human factors — how people move in a space and how they put their items into bins.

"You really learn a lot about human beings as passengers," he notes. "How they divest and particularly how they relate to new technology."

The test locations are also reminding TSA researchers that the traveling public often fails to read signs.

"We have to work constantly with the passengers to let them understand that they can leave everything in their bags," McCauley says. "There is this sense of disbelief that they don’t have to take out their laptops or liquids and gels."


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