The security advisory firm The Chertoff Group and Integrated Defense & Security Solutions (IDSS), a small company that develops and manufactures checkpoint computed tomography (CT) scanners to screen carry-on bags for explosives, are jointly developing technology that allows remote screening of the images produced by the CT machines.

The “massive multiplexing” technology has the potential to dramatically enhance checkpoint screening operations by requiring fewer screening officers at the checkpoint while also boosting the training and capabilities of officers that review the CT images for threats.

The Chertoff Group and IDSS are developing the massive multiplexing technology with private funding and a U.S. government contract, Lee Kair, a principal at the consulting firm and a former official with the Transportation Security Administration, tells HSR.

Kair said that under terms of the government contract, he is restricted on disclosing additional details for the time being other than “we are actively working on it now.”

With massive multiplexing, images taken of the contents of carry-on bags from checkpoint CT systems at airports around the U.S. could be routed to one or two locations where specialists remote interpret the images, he said. Currently, Transportation Security Officers rotate within the checkpoint are not specialized when it comes to image interpretation.

“So, when you are in a massive, multiplexing environment, or even any type of multiplexing, you get officer specialization, so that they are experts at finding threats in CT images,” Kair said.

There are also “significant manpower savings” by requiring fewer officers at checkpoints with massive multiplexing, he said, adding the technology also would allow TSA to better manage checkpoint travel volume peaks and valleys around the country by centralizing the CT image screening.

“You get to manage the peaks of every airport and every checkpoint across the system,” Kair said. “And the peaks also shift from east to west over the course of the day. All of that can now be managed in a massive multiplexing environment.”

TSA would also be able to save money by locating its remote screening centers to lower cost areas of the U.S., Kair said. And where TSA has difficulty hiring security officers, remote screening centers would help alleviate that challenge, he said.

The Chertoff Group said that the work it is doing with IDSS is based on open architecture imaging standards that will allow interoperability with any checkpoint or checked baggage CT system anywhere in the world. The CT systems that are currently being deployed to airport checkpoints in the U.S. and globally is based on technology that has been used for decades to automatically screen checked bags for explosives at airports.

“We’re not going to IDSS because they are a CT manufacturer,” Kair said. “We’re going to them because they have expertise in developing things using the open DICOS standard and we are jointly developing this architecture so that any CT manufacturer around the world would be able to utilize this framework at the national level and use their currently installed base of CT for checkpoint or checked baggage.”

In addition to IDSS, Analogic, Leidos [LDOS] and Smiths Detection are competing to provide checkpoint CT systems to airports worldwide.

New Patent

Kair has received a patent for his work, with a key feature being a “covert node” that allows bomb technicians located anywhere to create bags with actual threat items and then, via the massive multiplexed environment, transmit those bags to remote image interpretation centers to test officer performance against the test threats.

“A bomb technician several times a day [can] be creating actual threat time and then getting real-time feedback against this threat,” he said. “You get real-time feedback from every officer in the system on what is the performance against that bag.”

The officers at a remote screening center have no idea where the image came from and whether it’s of an actual bag passing through a CT system at a particular airport or if it was produced by a bomb technician at a non-airport location, Kair said.

A massive multiplexed environment will also create a tremendous number of images that can be used to help develop screening algorithms based on artificial intelligence and machine learning, he said.