Airports are faced with demanding and unique challenges; technology needs to keep up with these demands and also be one step ahead. New technology must not only be valid and reliable but also implemented in a way that streamlines the user experience for the passengers and security officers. Passenger demands grow every year and aging infrastructure exposes many of these challenges. Here we discuss the state-of-the-art technological advances in aviation security to minimize these complications.

group of tsa agents

Screening Technologies

Automated screening lanes allow for streamlined passenger divestment  of baggage for inspection within the checkpoint. Computed tomography (CT) is the latest checkpoint carry-on baggage scanning equipment. What makes CT important is the use of 3D rotating images to analyze baggage in 360 degrees, thus, minimizing many secondary searches inherent in 2D imaging technologies. 3D rotating images improve search when prohibited items are depicted from unusual viewpoints, when baggage contents are complex, and when prohibited items are superimposed by other objects. Many airports worldwide are transitioning to CT scanning.

Body scanners analyze threats contained on the body of travelers by using Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT). AITs can detect both metallic and non-metallic threats using full-body millimeter-wave frequencies, this addresses critical shortcomings of traditional walk-through metal detectors (WTMDs) that are only able to screen for metallic threats. New Enhanced Advanced Imaging Technology (eAIT) allows travelers to have a more relaxed stance with their arms at their sides instead of over their heads during the scan. If an individual is positioned incorrectly, the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) will receive a prompt on-screen to direct the traveler accordingly. eAIT allows special populations, such as individuals in wheelchairs, to access areas of the checkpoint without the need to pass through a disabilities gate.

AIT Body scanning technology is under continuous improvement. Rohde & Schwarz is one of the leaders in AIT products. They have produced the R&S QPS201 that is operating in airports across the world and also produced the newest R&S QPS Walk2000 which uses an array of micro-powered ultra-wideband radio sensors that allow individuals to walk through the system at a normal pace without removing shoes or clothing. Other walk-through AIT scanners, such as the Evolv Express, also allow individuals to walk through an AIT gate at a normal pace using Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology to spot prohibited items. These technologies have impressive throughput, allowing for an improved streamlined experience for operators and travelers.


Training Technologies

            With advances in screening technologies, there is a need for effective and efficient training methods. Computer-based training (CBT) offers a relatively affordable and flexible way to train staff on new technologies like CT screening that uses 3D rotating images to analyze baggage. 3D rotating images provide screeners the ability to change the orientation of an image instead of mentally rotating multiple 2D images to detect prohibited items. For new technology (like CT screening) to be maximized to its potential, it is crucial that CBT is implemented.

Many CBT technologies are being implemented around the world. For example, X-Ray Tutor (XRT4) is a CBT created on scientific research that has adaptive and specialized training. XRT’s tailored program considers the trainee’s skills and knowledge to provide a motivating, efficient, and effective training experience. XRT’s libraries of prohibited items are continuously being updated and added upon to keep up with new and emerging threats. XRT4 is the latest version that covers single-view, dual view, and 3D CT images and can be used on most browsers and platforms.

A challenge in airport security training is that real threats are rarely brought into airports by passengers. Security screeners need practice to improve their skills and vigilance. Conventional covert testing identifies a lot of these challenges, but it is costly and resource-intensive. A technology called Threat Image Projection (TIP) is software that projects images of prohibited items within baggage onto X-ray images. This technology mitigates many of the challenges inherent in testing screener performance.

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are also avenues for possible training technologies. The Center for Adaptive Security Research and Applications (CASRA) implemented a 4-year project in 2019 that focuses on the training of CT screening. In the project, the potential use of VR technologies is being discussed. VR can be used in object recognition training, checkpoint screening, and in the transition from 2D to 3D CT image screening. This technology may take a while to transition into.


Biometrics Technologies

To improve airport security, TSA is exploring and implementing biometric technologies based on rigorous analysis and studies. These technologies are used to increase operational efficiency to verify identity and detect persons-of-interest rather than using manual document checks. Facial recognition and identification are becoming increasingly popular to automize checkpoints and reliably detect fake passports.

Airports with facial recognition technology systems are provided with improved alerts, detection, and tracking intelligence. This information can then be used with other local and national databases for efficient, streamlined investigations.

Credential Authentication Technology (CAT) is a technology that helps detect fraudulent documents at security checkpoints. A CAT is a unit that can read many types of common and uncommon identifications. Passengers are required to place their ID into the scanner, and the system verifies the passenger’s identity while also effectively detecting fraudulent documents.


Behavioral Profiling Technologies

Behavioral profiling detects abnormal behavioral responses from individuals that could be seen as suspicious. Behavioral profiling can be a controversial topic, but what if it can be done reliably through robotics? Robotic systems claim high accuracy rates compared to humans for detecting deception. One technology that utilizes behavioral profiling is the Automated Virtual Agent for Truth Assessments in Real-Time (AVATAR). AVATAR is an interactive interviewer that analyzes thousands of signals in voice, gaze, posture, and gesture to find irregularities to decide if there are any potential threats. After the responses are categorized through AVATAR’s algorithm, the security guard is given a color-coded assessment to utilize for further investigation. This technology may be extremely helpful in the future for airport security.


Artificial Intelligence Technologies

            Increased airport security technologies provide an overwhelming amount of data for security staff. Human capabilities have limits; we cannot process all this data alone based on our own knowledge, experience, and workload limitations. Therefore, the implementation of artificial intelligence (IA) using deep neural networks is crucial. AI is defined as human intelligence simulated by machines. Continuously modified algorithms enable these machines to learn and reason. This should be very helpful when identifying nuisance alarms, which would increase throughput  Deep learning AI can now outperform even the best humans at many games, and it is now used in areas like the stock market.

AI allows airports to reliably screen for security threats and is highly effective at computing large sets of visual or auditory data to identify patterns and make predictions. But AI needs humans to supply enormous amounts of data to refine its algorithm. For example, many screening systems have the capabilities to detect prohibited items with the help of AI technology. If there is a possible threat, the human operator is alerted and then trains the AI algorithm by making the final decision (i.e., did the AI truly find a prohibited item, or was it a false alarm?). The AI will then learn by modifying the algorithm’s weights and biases based on millions of these human decisions to increase its sensitivity. AI has a part in most of the technologies mentioned here (screening, behavioral profiling, risk-based security strategies, facial recognition, and training). It is probable that AI technology will be utilized even more in the future for aviation security.