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Changing Airport Security With Liquid Scanners

Tue, 11/26/2013 - 1:30pm
CBS News

It's been seven years since a major change in airline security, but restrictions for carry-on liquids could someday be a thing of the past. An American-made scanning device is now being used at airports in Europe.

Battelle, a research group based in Columbus, Ohio, has developed a new type of liquid scanner they say works fast enough to serve the world's busiest airports without compromising security.

The portable machine can detect liquid explosives concealed in any type of container in a matter of seconds.

The need for this technology goes back to 2006, when British authorities foiled a terrorist plot to blow up airliners using liquid explosives hidden in soda bottles. In response, strict limits were placed on the amount of liquids air travelers could carry.

“I've literally see people crying as they see their $300 or $400 bottle of alcohol is dumped into the disposal bin,” said Wesley Pirkle, senior research scientist at Battelle.  

To make sure the scanner quickly determines whether a liquid is harmful or safe, researchers collected data on thousands of everyday items, from hand soap to baby oil to maple syrup.

Pirkle told CBS News’ Terrell Brown that they test benign items like hot sauce and cocktail sauce to make the machine more efficient.

“These are all things that could commonly carried through by the public and we need to ensure that this system does not alarm on these,” he said.

The machine, called the LS-10, will be phased in at several European airports, where officials plan to lift restrictions on carry-on liquids by 2016.

So far, the LS-10 has not been approved for use in the United States, but in a statement to CBS News, the TSA said that. "The relaxation of limitations on liquids, aerosols, and gels in carry-on bags remains a long-term goal."

For now, Battelle ships over a hundred units to airports around the world, offering air travelers some relief while maintaining a level of security they have come to expect.

“The information really is there to make them safer, make travel safer, and allow them to more conveniently do their travel,” said Pirkle.

The LS-10 is now being installed at several major airports, including London’s Heathrow Airport. Officials there hope to have them fully operational by the end of January, when new rules come into effect that would allow travelers to carry duty-free liquids past security.

For Terrell Brown’s full report, watch the video in the player above.

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