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Ground-breaking research could lead to safer and faster security scanners at airports

Airport security queues could be slashed and screening for weapons could become much more effective after Queen’s University Belfast researchers have been awarded £1 million to develop a ground-breaking solution.

PHOTO: Dr Okan Yurduseven

Dr Okan Yurduseven from the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology at Queen’s has been awarded a Leverhulme Research Leadership Award to develop technology which he hopes will cut the time it takes to collect and process data through security scanners from 10 seconds to less than a tenth of a second.

Currently, the security scanners are used at airports, as well as train stations, schools and large events such as concerts.

In 2015, an internal investigation of the Transportation Security Administration in the US revealed that undercover investigators were able to smuggle mock explosives or banned weapons through checkpoints in 95 percent of trials. Since then, Dr Yurduseven has been determined to develop a more effective solution that would also cut waiting times.

He explains: “When we arrive at the airport, everyone has to go through security clearance and body scanners which can take some time. When we walk through the scanner, it can take around 10 seconds to collect and process the data and reconstruct an image. It takes even more when the data is sent to a controller, who then manually checks it for illegal items. It can also add extra time when there are false alarms.  

“While this may not sound like very long, we have to take into account the huge volume of people filtering through airport security every day and this causes huge queues.

“More worryingly is that the current system has been investigated and issues have been raised in terms of how many illegal items could go unnoticed.”

He adds: “This Leverhulme Research Leadership Award will allow us to create technology that is fully electronic, rather than manually operated, and this will allow the scanners to process the images in real time – we think the entire scan process should be complete in less than a tenth of a second.

“By integrating machine learning into the design process, we will substantially reduce the false alarm rates in detecting threat objects. The outcome of this project will be of vital importance to ensure the safety of the public right across the globe.

“In order to do this we will use state-of-the-art millimetre-wave radar systems. We expect that the end result will be a much more effective system, leading to safer outcomes and reduced waiting times – so hopefully shorter queues at airports and other venues that use these scanners.”

Dr Yurduseven is now setting up a team to work on the five-year project. He is searching for four talented PhD students and four postdoctoral research associates who will work on ground-breaking radar technology, image processing algorithms and deep learning schemes.

He adds: “This is an amazing opportunity for myself and my team to carry out vital research using innovative engineering solutions to move science – and society – forward, all thanks to a Leverhulme Research Leadership Award.”

It is the first time that an academic at Queen’s University Belfast researcher has received a Leverhulme Research Leadership Award.

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