We have completed maintenance on DiscoverMagazine.com and action may be required on your account. Learn More

A High-Tech Alternative to Strip Searches

By Elizabeth Svoboda
Oct 1, 2003 5:00 AMNov 12, 2019 6:19 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

Surrounded by a crowd of people, some friendly and some hostile, a soldier in Iraq has no way to determine which individuals are carrying concealed weapons short of frisking or X-raying everyone in sight. Engineer Rick Blum and a group of colleagues at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania are working on a better option. Their "image fusion" system, funded by the U. S. Army Research Office, uses software to combine a digital snapshot of a scene with an image of the same area taken by a millimeter-wave camera. The millimeter-wave camera, an experimental device that detects rays longer than infrared, highlights differences in the way substances give off heat. Metal objects emit heat poorly and reflect millimeter waves well, so weapons stand out in the composite image, even if hidden under clothing.

The hard part is building an affordable device that quickly delivers a high-resolution composite image. Although Blum's tests show the fusion technique works in laboratory settings, the dishwasher-size prototype millimeter-wave camera—being developed by Bernard Clarke and his team at Rome Labs in Rome, New York—is far from field-ready. The main issues are image quality and cost. Clarke estimates the current version of the camera costs more than $100,000, and its resolution is still quite grainy, which complicates making a positive ID. Nevertheless, Blum reports that several companies are interested in manufacturing image-fusion devices, potentially making them cheap enough for police use.

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 40% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2024 Kalmbach Media Co.