Hate removing liquids from your bag at airport security? This scanner is for you.

A CAT scan could make airport security easier.
Credit: Analogic

The same technology used in hospitals to identify disease could help airports identify dangerous items in luggage—without requiring passengers to separate electronic devices, liquids, and gels at screening.

At the Passenger Terminal Expo in Amsterdam, one Massachusetts-based manufacturer, Analogic, showcased a machine using Computed Tomography — also known as CT or CAT scan — which is nearly detailed enough to help airport security find a needle in the haystack of your wardrobe.

“It's a 3D image, with high definition. You can zoom-in by pinching your finger like an iPad. You have the CT rendering of the bag, with contrast control,” Mark Laustra, Vice President, Global Business Development and Government Programs at Analogic told Travel+Leisure.

“If there were something concealed in the bag, like explosives in the lining of the bag, or liquid explosives in containers, those areas would be a bright red. They would really stand out to the operator,” he said. “It uses the density of the material and the atomic number to find explosives and liquid explosives.”

The luggage CAT scan is perfectly safe to use, Laustra says. It won’t damage film or mess with electronic devices.

There is some competition in this field: U.S. technology giant L3 offers a machine which also applies CT technology, as does Beijing-based Nuctech — but Laustra is confident that the space is open to competition and that Analogic offers superior technology.

“The way the system works now — without adding any detection algorithms — is better than most everything out there today,” he said. “Also, it's an open network system. So if there's a new threat, airports can hire a software engineer to design the algorithm and respond quickly.”

Two of Analogic’s new CAT scanners are undergoing trials. One is at the TSA lab and the other at a lab in Germany. Analogic is also building 10 machines for airport trials and evaluation. Laustra says the company could build up to thirty machines per month to meet airport demand.

The 50-year-old company has had success with gaining approvals of its CAT scan technology before, and has deployed an earlier version of its CAT scan machine at Luton Airport in the U.K.

These machines aren’t cheap. Laustra says the price difference between CAT scanners and the X-Ray machines we see at most airports today is pretty high. But he believes airports can count on a good return from their investment.

“We've been talking about the checkpoint of the future, but the future is now. The checkpoint of the future is moving passengers very quickly. You have to consider that you'll process more passengers per hour,” he said. “When passengers aren't waiting in line they're spending money at the airport. You have to consider the added revenue from restaurants and shops.”

No more rustling to get electronics out, or waiting for inexperienced travelers to put their toiletries in airport-supplied baggies, would be a welcome change.