Company designs portable X-ray scanner.

Position:Homeland Security News

Current X-ray scanners are bulky and immobile, forcing law enforcement officials to inspect suspicious items in hard-to-reach places without efficient equipment. To address this problem, a company has developed a handheld X-ray screening device to improve border, maritime and aviation security.

"The MINI Z screening system can go where others can't," said Chuck Dougherty, president and CEO of American Science and Engineering.

The portable X-ray system can squeeze into tiny spaces, giving it more versatility than other scanning devices, Dougherty said. Measuring less than one foot in length, the MINI Z is able to make it into less accessible areas like small cars and speed boats, airplane compartments, or public places where there might be an unattended bag.

It produces images on a Windows 8.1 tablet for immediate detection of drugs, explosives, and other contraband. According to Joe Reiss, product manager of AS&E, other scanning systems can lag, taking at least 10 seconds to generate a picture.

Reiss said MINI Z's "on-the-spot" image creation was a critical feature, as using slower devices could delay law enforcement from taking immediate action during dangerous situations.

The MINI Z builds off the company's Z Backscatter Van, a cargo and vehicle screening system. "Z Backscatter screening is really what makes this system so effective," Reiss said.

While traditional transmission X-rays--such as medical X-rays--pass through objects and display only black images, the device uses a technique called "scattering" to highlight threatening organic materials, Reiss explained. When backscatter X-rays interact with low-density objects like most organic matter, they detect the radiation reflecting from the objects and emit white images, he said.

"Essentially, we took a huge machine and condensed it into a handheld device. There's a lot of technology in this little box," Reiss said.

The prototype had been in the works for about three years, Dougherty said. But it was the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing...

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