The end of airport queues? Device promises security without the wait

The days of having to arrive hours early for a flight could be over after Canberra scientists developed a device that could eliminate frustratingly long airport queues.

A research team led by Australian National University scientists has produced a prototype of the device, which could be developed into ultra-sensitive cameras to help in the fight against terrorism.

Dr Mingkai Liu with a prototype of a device that could spell the end for airport security screening queues. Photo: Supplied

Dr Mingkai Liu with a prototype of a device that could spell the end for airport security screening queues. Photo: Supplied

Lead researcher Dr Mingkai Liu said the device had the potential to revolutionise airport security.

"These future cameras could identify hazardous devices or dangerous chemicals in people’s carry-on baggage when they walk through an airport, without needing them to queue up and go through the various procedures that are necessary now,” he said.

But Dr Liu, from the university's Nonlinear Physics Centre, said the ultra-sensitive cameras would likely need to be used in partnership with other security measures in order to identify not only suspect bags, but also the people carrying them.

“Unlike conventional cameras used in CCTV, this type of camera cannot recognise people’s faces," he said.

"[The ultra-sensitive cameras] would be just one part of the model.

"You might need to combine it with traditional CCTV."

But with the technology described as "still very primitive", it is likely to be several years before it is available for use in airports, which are faced with an ever-increasing number of passengers.

Australia's 10 busiest airports saw a 2.4 per cent increase in domestic passenger movements between September 2017 and September 2018, according to the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics. Canberra Airport recorded the largest growth, with a 4.8 per cent increase.

The number of international passengers moving through Australian airports increased by 5.1 per cent during the same time period, with Canberra again recording the highest growth at 19.5 per cent.

The device's full potential is also unclear, but Dr Liu said it might be used to create more compact sensors for driverless cars, enabling them to better sense hazards in bad weather and narrow spaces.

Dr Liu said the prototype had a single sensor that could sense the entire environment surrounding it with "unprecedented precision".

"Previously, multiple fixed sensors pointing towards different directions would be required to achieve this," he said.

Professor Ilya Shadrivov, who leads the microwave and terahertz group at the Nonlinear Physics Centre, said the research team would continue to develop the device until it was ready to be commercialised and manufactured on a large scale.

He said the research team hoped to collaborate with "industrial partners" to explore how else it might be used.

That technology was developed by Smiths Detection, whose managing director Jordan Thrupp said in November that mainstream adoption was likely in the next one or two years.