Security screening at airport

Security screening could use Wi-Fi to detect weapons, engineers suggest

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A study led by engineers at Rutgers University-New Brunswick has found that ordinary Wi-Fi could be used to detect weapons, bombs and explosives being carried into public venues.

High-profile attacks by terrorists and other perpetrators of mass public violence have led to heightened security screening in public, with museums, theatres and art galleries typically requiring visitors to enter via bag checks. These screening methods require trained staff and sometimes specialised equipment.

Now, a team of Rutgers researchers have proposed an inexpensive, simple and less intrusive way to check bags for weapons and explosives which uses ordinary Wi-Fi.

“This could have a great impact in protecting the public from dangerous objects,” said Professor Yingying Chen of Rutgers’ department of electrical and computer engineering. “There’s a growing need for that now.

“In large public areas, it’s hard to set up expensive screening infrastructure like in airports. Manpower is always needed to check bags and we wanted to develop a complementary method to try to reduce manpower.”

The engineers’ have used Wi-Fi – which uses radio waves of a certain frequency to enable communication between nearby devices – to penetrate bags and assess the dimensions of suspicious metal objects as the radio waves are reflected from them. This allows for cans, laptops and batteries (as well as dangerous objects such as knives and guns) to be identified without the need for staff to search all bags. Wi-Fi can also be used to estimate the volume of liquids, which could be used in explosive weapons, the researchers say.

Setting up this system simply requires a Wi-Fi device with two to three antennas. The system can be integrated into existing Wi-Fi networks.

Tests using 15 different classes of objects and six types of bag showed that the system could detect dangerous objects with 99 per cent accuracy, metals with 98 per cent accuracy and 95 per cent accuracy for liquids. Wrapping the objects made it harder for the system to detect them.

The engineers behind the study hope that, in the future, a version of this system could be used as a low-cost security-screening mechanism for museums, stadiums, theme parks and other venues.

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