More airports to get body scanners with PNNL tech

The Transportation Security Administration has ordered 300 new whole body scanners based on technology developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the nation's airports.

They are in addition to almost 500 of the scanners already installed at 78 airports nationwide. In addition, the TSA contract with L-3 Communications has an option to buy another 200 units. L-3 Communications has commercialized the technology.

There's no word yet on whether one of the new scanners may be installed at the Pasco airport, which is expecting to receive its first whole body scanner in the coming year.

TSA will make airport announcements once a schedule for installing the new scanners is final, the agency said in a statement.

PNNL developed the scanners based on millimeter wave technology that produces a holographic image of the human body and any objects concealed under clothing.

Unlike the X-ray backscatter scanners used at some airports, the millimeter wave technology uses harmless radio waves to scan for metallic and nonmetallic concealed objects, including liquids, gels, plastics, powders and ceramics.

"Advanced imaging technology is one of the best layers of security we have to address the threats of today and tomorrow," said John Pistole, TSA administrator, in a statement.

The newest models of the scanners will have automated target recognition software, which is designed to better protect passenger privacy by replacing passenger-specific images with the generic outline of a person.

If a potential threat or issue is identified by the software, an outline highlighting the area of concern is displayed on the operator's control panel over a generic mannequin figure.

That will eliminate the need for the images to be checked out of the public's view, streamlining the screening process.

The system can scan 200 to 400 people per hour, according to L-3.

TSA also has begun to install the new software on millimeter wave imaging machines currently in airports to improve privacy protection.