Researchers are developing tech to make flying safer without straining resources or passengers’ patience. By Erik Schechter
Distributed chemical sensors
The US Naval Research Laboratory is developing a sensor that can track trace amounts of chemicals in explosives. The tiny sensor, called Silicon Nanowires in a Vertical Array with a Porous Electrode (SiN-VAPOR), is superior to dogs in terms of analysis: it can describe in detail what it’s detecting. Christopher Field, lead researcher on SiN-VAPOR, sees it eventually paired with other technologies such as CCTV cameras and facial-recognition software to create a checkpoint-less airport.
Faster explosive-trace detection
Finding explosive traces is a time-consuming process involving wipe-downs and residue analysis. Michigan State University researchers came up with a faster method that uses a low-power laser. The system fires two pulses at a target, one in resonance with chemical frequencies found in explosives; the other, a control pulse, slightly out of resonance. A reaction in only the non-control pulse indicates the presence of explosives. It’s efficient and could be used in X-ray machines.
Long-range iris ID
Researchers continue to extend the range of iris-identification scans. Current systems must be 30 cm or closer to a person’s face to “enroll” an iris in a database. In 2010, PM reported on an experimental eye scanner that works at 4,9 metres. Now, the Carnegie Mellon University CyLab Biometrics Centre has built a device that can perform high-quality scans from almost 12 m in 3 to 6 seconds. Airport security officers could use the device to quickly confirm passenger identities.
Gold-coated pilot glasses
It’s a criminal offence to flash a laser pointer at an aircraft, but that hasn’t stopped some miscreants from trying to blind pilots with them. In 2012 alone, there were 3 482 laser incidents, according to America’s FAA, and South African pilots have also reported a number of incidents. University of Central Florida scientist Jayan Thomas has developed eyeglass lenses with gold nanoclusters that block high-intensity light. The glasses would work against all laser wavelengths while allowing colours and eye-safe light to pass through.