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Airports to employ new explosives screening system

A novel screening method designed to detect explosives could find its way into airports across Europe next year when the restrictions on liquids in hand luggage are relaxed. The Insight 100 from Cobalt Light Systems can analyse bottles of up to three litres for explosives in less than five seconds.

The system screens liquids, powders, or gels within sealed containers such as glass or plastic bottles, tubs, and other common receptacles. Currently, there is a ban on carrying liquids, aerosols and gels over 100ml onto commercial flights.

Insight 100’s screening process utilises a technique called spatially offset Raman spectroscopy (SORS). A near-infrared laser is directed at a test subject at multiple points. A small proportion of the light reflected back at each point is shifted in wavelength by the energy levels in the liquid molecules, and this small shift reveals what the chemical composition of the substance. The Insight 100 acquires the reflected, shifted spectra before comparing them against a library of SORS signatures, enabling it to determine the presence of hazardous substances and material threats.

Crucially, the detection capability is extremely high and false alarm rates have been demonstrated to be approximately 1.5 per cent or less. Another key requirement of the system is high throughput to minimise queues caused by the new procedure; it is able to screen a three litre bottle in five seconds.

The device utilises a number of individual instruments including multi-function data acquisition, laser excitation source, complex energy delivery and collection optical assembly, and a high-performance CCD Raman spectrometer. Automated control and synchronisation of the instrumentation is handled by a versatile, yet easy to maintain, application written in LabView from National Instruments.

LabView provided the team at Cobalt Light Systems with a platform enabling them to separate hardware and software automation into modular standalone blocks from the GUI development. This allowed rapid software application development and lent itself to more thorough testing.

According to Cobalt Light Systems, LabView enabled the team to efficiently develop, rigorously test, and seamlessly deploy a ruggedised but maintainable solution within extremely tight deadlines.

The Insight 100 was recently approved by the European Civil Aviation Conference, and met Type B Standard 2 for liquid explosive detection systems. It is about to be commissioned in a number of high-profile airports across Europe. If successful, the technology could be deployed globally in the near future.

The underlying technology is exclusive to Cobalt Light Systems and was invented at the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK.

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