Comic-book technology is the future of the TSA.
Richard Phibbs

One of the most promising airport security applications to date is the backscatter machine, a whole-body screening device that visually strip-searches passengers—showing not just hidden weapons and explosives but also a graphic view of a person's naked image. Not surprisingly, the technology has created a stir among privacy advocates. Nevertheless, experts predict it will soon be standard at U.S. airports.

The Transportation Security Administration, which has been testing the machines at its Atlantic City site, says it will begin implementing backscatter technology at U.S. airports once it is further refined. In August, the TSA gave American Science & Engineering, one of two U.S. firms that make backscatter X-ray systems, $945,000 to upgrade its technology. The improved version will eliminate distinguishing features—revealing an outline instead of curves and anatomical details. And in October, Rapiscan Systems received a $912,000 TSA contract to enhance its model. Last summer, the company sold three machines to the British Airport Authority, which began testing them at Heathrow's Terminal 4 in November.