Security detection company American Science and Technology [ASEI] in June introduced a new handheld X-Ray imaging system that it is marketing to a wide range of customers, including the broad public safety arena, to detect explosives, weapons, drugs and contraband in everything from car and plane seats to the bulkheads of drug running boats.
The MINI Z is based on the company’s Z backscatter technology that is the foundation for its bestselling Z Backscatter Van (ZBV) and other cargo, vehicle and parcel inspection systems sold to the United States and international governments and customers. But those systems are typically expensive, very much so in the case of the ZBV and other vehicle and cargo inspection systems.
The MINI Z will sell in the $50,000 range, making it easier to be purchased by law enforcement and first responder authorities in states, metropolitan areas and other customers such as airport and transit authorities, Chuck Dougherty, president and CEO of AS&E, tells HSR. Moving into the public safety market is a “big step for us.”
A year from now Dougherty expects MINI Z to have a “good presence” with the company’s existing customers and in new public safety markets.
Dougherty believes that one of the biggest applications for his company’s new system, which he says is the first in what is planned to be a family of portable products based on the Z backscatter technology, will be for scanning unattended bags. Unlike conventional portable X-Ray systems that can be bulky and take tens of minutes to deploy and set up, the MINI Z can be carried to the bag, turned on immediately along with its accompanying tablet computer that enables the device and displays the image, and providing an instant image of the contents without having to touch or move the bag, he says.
This concept of operations saves time and money, Dougherty says.
AS&E conducted briefings and demonstrations of its new product in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday for dozens of interested and potential federal, state, local and international customers. Similar briefings and demonstrations are planned in the months ahead in different areas of the U.S. as the company expands its marketing and outreach, Dougherty says.
At the government level just about every federal agency, including the Defense Department, and some international governments, are potential customers, Dougherty says.
The company has sold some of its legacy products in the public safety space but Dougherty says the small form factor, which gives the MINI Z a wide range of utility, combined with its price, opens this market to the company in a big way. He envisions sales of several units to hundreds to different customers depending on their needs.
As the device is purchased and used, Dougherty believes customers will continue to find new uses for it. Moreover, he says, once some of these new customers gain experience with the Z backscatter technology, some of them may eventually begin to consider the company’s larger systems depending on their needs.
The MINI Z doesn’t have a direct competitor but the types of products it will compete with in the marketplace include things like explosives and narcotics trace detectors, portable X-Ray systems, density readers, handheld passive millimeter wave and other radar systems.
In addition to public safety, AS&E is targeting border and security checkpoints, drug enforcement, event and VIP security, and general aviation and maritime security markets for the MINI Z. The system offers real-time detection of hidden organic threats, AS&E says.
In the recent MINI Z demonstration at a federal building in Washington, AS&E showed mock operations in three scenarios, including scanning of the wing of a general aviation aircraft for counter-drug smuggling applications, scanning of an unattended bag, and a traditional customs application involving a scan of car seats and tires.
Some of the operating and functional features of the MINI Z include a four hour battery life, a weight between eight and nine pounds, and the ability to scan an area at a rate of six-inches per scan. Scans can be done from different distances but the closer the system is to the item of interest the higher the resolution, to the point that the number of pills in a container can begin to be counted.
The MINI Z also allows AS&E to offer customers a new service model because the system can easily be shipped for repair rather than having a field technician sent to work on it. Training on the use of the system is also made easy with a video tool on the accompany tablet.
For future product releases around the new miniaturized technology, Dougherty says to expect additional form factors for the MINI Z, which will further open markets. Eventually some of these products will have the ability to do radiation detection, he says.