Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is working with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate are examining the potential for commercially-available drive-through vehicle inspection systems for deployment to inbound and outbound traffic, according to a report accompanying the House Appropriations Committee’s markup of the FY ’18 spending bill for DHS.

“Such technology could significantly advance CBP’s ability to intercept contraband at the ports of entry by using low to medium-energy systems that allow a driver to remain in a vehicle while the inspection occurs,” says the report. It points to backscatter and transmission X-Ray technology that can be used to enhance material discrimination, “under-vehicle inspection that provides a clear picture of the undercarriage with the ability to zoom into specific spots for a closer view, and smaller footprint designs.”

Leidos [LDOS] and OSI Systems’ [OSIS] Rapiscan Systems division both make drive-through X-Ray imaging systems.

The committee says that CBP must report within 60 days of the DHS bill becoming law on the status of the assessment, costs for implementing the screening systems, and “a plan for demonstrating how promising systems would operate at a port of entry.”

Allowing drivers and passengers to remain in vehicles is expected to speed processing times if the scans can be done quickly. Adding the drive-through systems to primary screening lanes would greatly expand the number of vehicles and cargo scanned for contraband and illicit items.

Todd Owen, executive assistant commissioner for CBP’s Office of Field Operations, says the agency is already using low energy drive through systems in some cases, which allows for safe scanning of the vehicle without creating safety hazards for the occupants.

“Those have been a game changer for us in the passenger arena,” Owens says at a July 25 hearing held by the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security.

The ongoing work with S&T as well as the vendors and manufacturers, is to develop similar drive through systems for cargo, Owens says. This is “on the horizon,” he says.

Non-intrusive inspection systems for cargo trucks are single energy, which means the driver has to exit the cab before the high-energy scan can be conducted of the contents of the truck, Owens says. This “slows things down,” he says, noting that the throughput is about seven trucks per hour.

“The technology that’s on the horizon that I really see as a game changer for our cargo inspections is a multi-energy system that you can ratchet down to a low energy version to scan the cab, and as the driver and the cab clears you ratchet up the energy level to high-energy to penetrate the cargo,” he tells the panel. “That will allow the trucks to continue to keep moving and not having to come to a stop. We estimate 10 times as many inspections can be done in an hour with that technology.”