U.K. police to test bomb-detecting body scanners

Government to evaluate Qinetiq's latest millimeter wave system for suitability in the antiterror campaign.

Following the suicide bomb attacks on London this month, the U.K. government and police are planning to evaluate scanning technology that can see through clothes and detect concealed bombs and weapons on people.

The millimeter wave imaging technology was developed by defense research company Qinetiq with the help of government funding and is currently used to detect stowaways hiding in vehicles at channel ports and at an airport in the U.K. The scanner picked up 10,000 illegal immigrants in the back of trucks in its first nine months.

A new, smaller device has been developed by Qinetiq that is designed to inspect individuals or groups of people, with the image showing the surface of the body and objects under clothing.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the government will evaluate the latest system for suitability in the antiterror campaign as soon as it is available in early August.

"Millimetre wave imaging is one of a number of technologies being evaluated by the police service and the Home Office Scientific Development Branch for detecting bombs and weapons carried under clothing. It relies on non-ionising radiation which is emitted by all objects in the environment or can be generated artificially for indoor use," he said in a Parliamentary written answer.

But he added that like all explosives detection systems, the technology would need to be deployed as part of a planned security system incorporating equipment, staff and procedures to interpret and deal with the information gathered by the equipment.

Neil Fisher, director of security solutions at Qinetiq, told Silicon.com that a single scanning portal is capable of scanning moving images of up to 500 people an hour and said a U.S. transport organization wants to scan up to 400 rush-hour passengers a minute at a major railway station.

"No single technology can do that, but we came up with a combination of detectors and sensors to produce a system that can get pretty close to that," he said.

Reports earlier this month claiming Transport for London was already testing the scanning technology for possible use at Tube stations were dismissed by both the transit agency and Qinetiq, but Fisher said the company is in constant dialogue with the Department for Transport's security agency, Transec.

Andy McCue of Silicon.com reported from London.

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