High-tech liquid scanner set to shorten airport queues

Long airport security lines and restrictive hand luggage rules could be consigned to the past

Liquid containers go through airport security
(Image credit: Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

ANGRY passengers, long queues and strict guidelines over liquids on planes could be substantially reduced by a new airport scanner for liquids.

The scanning device will analyse and test liquids in containers for explosives at airport security points without staff having to open them.

Heathrow and Gatwick are among 65 airports to test out the new scanners over the next two years.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

A foiled 2006 plot to blow up transatlantic flights using explosives concealed in drink bottles led to a restriction on the amount of liquid permitted in passenger hand luggage.

Passengers have since faced strict guidelines over the amount of liquids permitted on planes with current limits set at containers of 100ml or less.

Thousands of containers that don't meet the 100ml rule are abandoned every year at airports, resulting in lengthy queues at security.

Heathrow confiscates around 2,000 tonnes of liquids per year, according to the Guardian.

The container-screening scanner, which is called ‘Insight100’, was developed by Cobalt Light Systems. It uses a technique of Rahman spectroscopy where liquids, powders or gels within sealed containers can be scanned at security checkpoints within five seconds.

The scanner works by shining a laser beam at the container. A spectrum of light returns and the scanner cross-checks the container against a library of recognised dangerous liquids deemed as potential threats.

Paul Loeffen, Chief Executive of Cobalt Light Systems, told The Times: “The aim of airport authorities has always been to get back to the state of normality as it was in 2006. But that meant meeting certain detection standards.

''The bombs [planned by the terrorists involved in the 2006 plot] were made from concentrated hydrogen peroxide and chapati flour. It’s very scary stuff.''

The new scanner has been nominated for the prestigious Royal Academy of Engineering’s MacRobert Award.

Experts believe that the device's future uses may include food analysis, the detection of counterfeit goods and non-evasive cancer screening.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.