New security camera spots drugs, not your 'naughty bits'

A camera that is sophisticated enough to tell if you have sugar in your pocket, not cocaine from a distance of 25 metres, could find a home at security points in airports or at borders throughout the globe.

A camera that is sophisticated enough to tell if you have sugar in your pocket, not cocaine from a distance of 25 metres, but doesn't see your naughty bits could find a home at security points in airports or at borders throughout the globe.

At least that's what ThruVision, the company developing the T5000 camera hopes. The camera sees objects that emit Terahertz, or T-rays, which pretty much includes all people and most objects. T-rays are a form of low level energy naturally emitted from all materials, including rocks, plants, animals and people. They can pass through smoke, clouds and many solid materials like clothing, and in some cases, even walls, the company claims.

Every material emits a different signature of Terahertz wave, which lies between infrared and microwaves on the electromagnetic spectrum. That means it can tell the difference between cocaine and sugar the company said. The T5000 passively collects these naturally occurring T-rays and processes them to form images that reveal concealed objects hidden under a person's clothing without displaying physical body detail and without subjecting them to any of the harmful radiation associated with traditional X-ray security screening.

According to ThruVision, the T5000 operates well beyond the range of traditional X-ray scanning and metal detector systems, the T5000 is designed for the protection of human life and property at key political, business, tourist and economic infrastructure sites. It delivers a powerful new capability for security personnel at international airports, public transport facilities, large sporting events, check point control installations and other high-security points of interest. Furthermore, subjects can be still or moving, reducing the frequent problem of crowd bottlenecks, the company said.

The ThruVision camera's passive imaging technology was a collaborative effort with the European Space Agency (ESA) which designed it in part for use in spacecraft to see through cosmic dust clouds. The company makes a smaller version of the T5000, the T4000 for offices and banks. The T5000camera will be displayed this week at a security trade show in Britain.

Work on T-ray technology is widespread. The Center for Terahertz Research notes on its Web site: "The promise of terahertz wave radiation, known as "T-rays", is being realized through ongoing research at the THz Center's state-of-the-art laboratories: The W. M. Keck Laboratory for THz Science, Dr. Michael Shur's THz Electronics laboratory, Dr. Masashi Yamaguchi's THz Quantum Optics laboratory, Dr. Ingrid Wilke's THz Spectroscopic laboratory, Dr. Gwo-Ching Wang's IGERT THz-GHz laboratory, and Dr. Xi-Cheng Zhang's THz Photonics laboratory. Together, these researchers are overcoming significant challenges posed by the fundamental physics that underlie this large-and historically inaccessible-portion of the electromagnetic spectrum."

It is unclear if the T-ray technology will generate the same sort of privacy concerns other advanced X-ray products have in the past. When the US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced last October it will begin testing a body-scanning machine that could ultimately replace the metal detectors airline passengers walk through at airports, it set off some alarms — particularly at the ACLU. The alarms were in response to tests of a new screening system that uses radio waves, known as millimeter wave imaging technology to scan passengers and detect foreign objects hidden underneath clothing. The millimeter wave technology creates a three-dimensional image of the passenger from two antennas that simultaneously rotate around the body. Once complete, the passenger will step through the opposite side of the millimeter wave portal. And here's the rub: to ensure privacy, security officers view images from a remote location.

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