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The TSA Is Testing A Better, Faster Way To Scan Bags

Faster lines, less racial profiling. Sign us up.

The Transportation Security Administration’s conveyor system looks so efficient on paper–like some assembly line designed by Henry Ford–until you elbowing for the last of the plastic trays behind someone who left a water bottle in their bag and holds up the whole line.

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But the TSA’s R&D lab is constantly testing alternatives, including the Qylatron. By Qylur Intelligent Systems, the Qylatron is a honeycomb-style set of lockers. You walk up to one, scan your ticket, and it pops open. You slide your bag inside, close the door, and walk around to the other side. By the time you get there, your bag is scanned.

“It’s over almost as it started,” Dr. Lisa Dolev, CEO and founder of Qylur Intelligent Systems, says. “This surprises and delights guests.”

The honeycomb structure gives the Qylatron an almost alien look, and distinguishes its invisible technology–which uses a combination of X-rays, automated machine learning, and undisclosed radiation and chemical screenings to identify objects in your bag–from peers. The design has practical advantages, too. Honeycombs allow for a smaller footprint than rectangular lockers would, requiring less real estate to squeeze into existing TSA checkpoints, plus they offer more structural integrity than stacked cubes.

Though the Qylatron is set up in five-cell groupings, only two to three people are ever putting in or taking out bags at a time. “As a result it is rare for people to need to jockey,” Dolev says. A plethora of TSA agents wouldn’t be getting in the way, either. It only takes four agents to run each cluster, which is enough move 600 people through the line per hour (that’s about three times the speed documented in a 2005 study of TSA line throughput at Dallas/ Fort Worth International Airport).

Qylur is also banking on the idea that fewer human handlers could make citizens feel more comfortable. Unlike the hands-on assistance you’d get from the bellhop of a nice hotel, the company believes that people would prefer to have more autonomy over their possessions in tense screening settings. “Self-service is a major part of it,” Dolev says. “You remain in control of your bags. No one is touching them (normally). This helps with concerns of privacy as well.”

The system could also cut back on racial profiling. That’s because it generally relies on remote operators to look over scanned bags; the human eyes examining the X-rays can’t make an association with any bag’s owner.

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The Qylatron has been tested successfully at the 2014 World Cup, Disneyland Paris, and the San Francisco 49ers Levi’s Stadium, where it costs venues a subscription fee ranging from 20-cents to $1 per ticket, plus an independent study performed by the University of Southern Mississippi found that both consumers and security experts were pleased with the experience. But given the proprietary nature of government security technology, it’s hard to know if the Qylatron is truly better than what we have today, or whether it just looks that way. Then again, it’s hard to imagine anything all that much worse than what we have now.

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About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day

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