By Calvin Biesecker

SAIC [SAI] yesterday said it has acquired Spectrum San Diego, a small firm which last spring introduced a low-cost X-ray imaging system for scanning cars and vans for weapons and contraband at vehicle checkpoints.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

SAIC is basically acquiring the CarScan product that Spectrum developed over the last two-plus years, filling a niche in its X-ray and gamma imaging systems that are largely focused on large trucks and cargo. Spectrum hasn’t had any sales of its CarScan product but has done pilot tests with the Transportation Security Administration at a ferry terminal in New England and with other U.S. agencies.

Once CarScan was introduced last May, there was little time to market it because there was immediate interest from four major players in the cargo inspection market in acquiring the technology, Steven Smith, the president and technical director of Spectrum up until the deal closed with SAIC, told Defense Daily yesterday. He declined to name the other companies who were interested in CarScan.

American Science & Engineering [ASEI], L-3 Communications [LLL], OSI Systems‘ [OSIS] Rapiscan division and Britain’s Smiths Detection all compete in the U.S. and international markets in the cargo inspection space.

CarScan is a low-cost imaging system that can be set up relatively quickly at vehicle checkpoints. The system emits low-dose X-rays, allowing occupants to remain inside a vehicle and thereby maintain relatively high throughput. Smith said the cost of the system is about one-third that of existing comparable scanning technology.

The system produces different color-coded images of organic contents inside a vehicle, allowing operators to better distinguish the thickness of the various organic contents inside a car or light truck. The dual-energy system also allows metal and organic objects to be distinguished using advanced computer processing.

The Department of Homeland Security, in particular Customs and Border Protection (CBP), does have systems that can scan automobiles, vans and pick-up trucks for stowaways, contraband and weapons. However, these systems are typically expensive and usually require the driver and passengers to exit the vehicle during the scanning process.

TSA has looked at various scanning systems to screen vehicles before they board ferries but hasn’t purchased these systems for routine operations. CBP is using more mobile screening technologies, such as AS&E’s Z Backscatter Vans, to screen a limited number of outbound vehicles on the southwest border to combat the flow of money and guns into Mexico that help fuel the drug trade.

"It fits our philosophy of security in the flow of commerce," Alex Preston, head of SAIC’s Security and Transportation Technology business unit, said in a statement about CarScan. "As we’re seeing on our southern border, weapons, drugs, cash and stowaways in light vehicles are a growing challenge. CarScan is a cost-effective way to help stem the tide without slowing traffic."

SAIC’s inspection business includes the VACIS line of X-ray and gamma-ray imaging products, radiation detection systems and other systems to scan vehicles and cargo.

Spectrum’s CastScope prosthetic imaging product, which has been acquired by TSA, and SentryScope video surveillance solution are not part of the deal. Instead, these systems and Spectrum’s liabilities have been transferred to a new research and development company, Tek84 Engineering Group, LLC. Tek84 is owned by Spectrum’s former security holders.

None of Spectrum’s managers are moving to SAIC. Spectrum did not use a financial adviser for the deal.