This Laser Scanner Could Let You Fly With Bottles Again

Illustration for article titled This Laser Scanner Could Let You Fly With Bottles Again

After terrorists tried to fly with liquid explosives back in 2006, air travelers have been limited to bringing only small bottles onto planes. But that inconvenience could soon be gone if Cobalt's new laser scanners start appearing at airport security checkpoints.

While equipment that can determine exactly what materials are inside a bottle have existed for years, they're not exactly fast. And using them to analyze every single bottle that passes through airport security would create even more delays. But Cobalt's new Insight100 scanner uses near-infrared lasers and a technique called spatially offset raman spectroscopy to size up a bottle's contents in just five seconds.

Basically a laser is fired into the liquid, gel, or powder contents of a container, and the light that bounces back is measured for shifts in its wavelength. Since every chemical creates a unique shift, the Insight100 can accurately determine the contents of a bottle or container, with just 0.5 percent false positives. It was recently approved by European flight safety agencies, and I'm hoping Cobalt will soon market it to airports over here soon so I don't have to spend $4 for a bottle of water once I've passed security. [Cobalt via NewScientist]

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0.5% false positives (actually the source says 1.5%) at a checkpoint actually sounds pretty high. I wonder what the next step would be if it was positive. If you just throw it away, then you are throwing away what has been identified as potentially explosive material. But if you call in the bomb squad or some equivalent, it will be too expensive/time consuming to be feasible.

Also I wonder if it would be configured to detect alcohol or if I could bring in a mixed drink in a nalgene as long as it's not explosive. Big savings over the airport bar.