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FAA orders new silicon for security

The FAA has hooked up with Micron to develop a more powerful airline security system built around a new breed of micrprocessor.

The Federal Aviation Administration and chip-maker Micron Communications are collaborating to develop a new way to combat airline terrorism.

The partnership will create an automated system to recognize when baggage has been placed on an airplane but the passenger has not boarded. The project will use Micron's technology that integrates on a single chip a microwave-frequency radio, a microcontroller, and a memory chip. The chip is used on "smart cards" with small antennae or an integrated circuit with a port to add more memory.

The announcement of the joint FAA-Micron efforts on a "positive passenger baggage matching system" comes at a time of heightened interest in airline security since the explosion of the TWA jet last month near New York. But Micron spokeswoman Julie Nash said Micron has in fact been in discussions with the FAA for months.

FAA spokesman Hank Price said no money is involved in the joint development pact, one of the agency's many efforts to enhance airline safety. "We're doing this to look at new technologies to see if they suit the security system," said Price, adding that no time line has been set for completion of the project.

The technology just entered beta testing with customers, but Micron would not name anyone.

Nash said the device to track baggage can work from 15 feet away and through wood and other barriers. Other potential uses include inventory control, automated manufacturing, and smart cards for financial transactions.

Micron Communications is 85 percent owned by Micron Technology, a major manufacturer of memory chips based in Boise, Idaho.

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