The Brilliant Machine That Could Finally Fix Airport Security | Autopia | WIRED

Fans at a World Cup game at Arena de Baixada stadium in Curitiba, Brazil use the Qylatron to go through security. Qylur

Australian fans pumped to see their team take on Spain during the first round of the World Cup were intrigued by the honeycomb-like machine that had replaced the standard manual search process at Arena de Baixada stadium in Curitiba, Brazil. They were less thrilled when the machine spotted the toy kangaroos they were trying to sneak into the match.

That machine is the Qylatron Entry Experience Solution, and it could soon replace a crappy experience of going through security checks at airports and other venues with one that’s faster and less invasive. Instead of having a human poke around in your bag, the machine scans it for a variety of threats in just a few seconds. Searching those Aussies and other soccer fans may prove to be a watershed moment for the system, a successful test of how well it can spot trouble and move people through security, efficiently and with their dignity intact.

The system is the work of Silicon Valley-based Qylur Security Systems, and it consists of five pods that sit around a central sensor. The process is a much closer to being pleasant than having your stuff searched by hand at a stadium or going through the mundane horrors of TSA security. You don’t have to open your bag or let any else touch it. And with five people moving through at once, you’re through security before you have time to really get annoyed.

The whole process is simple. You hold your ticket up to the machine, and it assigns you a pod, in which you place your bag in. Each pod is about the size of a big microwave, so will fit most bags, but maybe not the biggest carry-ons you can take on a plane (though Qylur presumably could tweak the size). Close the door and walk around to the other side. In the time it takes you to get over there, the machine scans the bag for a range of threats. Qylur isn’t keen on explaining how the technology works, but we know it has radiation and chemical sensors to pick out explosives. With a multi-view X-ray, it matches the shapes of objects it sees against a large, pre-programmed library of images to pick out prohibited items like guns and knives. If it sees a threat, it alerts a security officer, and the door of the pod turns red. If not, the door turns green, and you unlock it with your ticket. Take your bag and go.

Before Qylur can lock down contracts to move into airports and other venues, it has to prove the system works. So it went to Brazil, where it was hired by an event operations company running some World Cup games. Qylur was given responsibility for one entrance to Arena de Baixada stadium, for four games.

The system is made to look for guns and bombs, but the World Cup presented an unusual challenge. FIFA is really picky about what fans can bring into the stadium. On top of weapons, the banned item list covers long umbrellas, flagpoles, banners or flags bigger than 2 meters by 1.5 meters, megaphones, vuvuzelas (great call), computers, and a list of of otherwise mundane things, including those kangaroos the Aussies love, and large quantities of flour.

Teaching the Qylatron to spot those things the way it sees guns and knives would have involved adding images of them to the machine’s database. Instead, the team worked in what CEO Dr. Lisa Dolev calls collaboration mode. The machine scans for conventional threats like weapons on its own, and a human operator in a remote room scans the images to pick out those illicit flags, bags of flour, and yes, toy kangaroos. The operator watches the images from all five of the machine’s pods at once, which Dolev says isn’t a problem (no word on if she’s hired Rain Man). He alerts an employee at the machine if he spots something suspicious. Man and machine “ended up stopping an awful lot of bags,” Dolev says, but the fans seemed to like the process anyway.

The company plans to deploy its technology at a few more venues this year. It will soon shift to more permanent setups, Dolev says, though she won’t reveal specific spots just yet. We assume TSA isn’t on the list of clients—getting the agency to change its ways takes a lot of work—but hopefully Qylur can find its way into our airports sometime soon.

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