Industry News

A Personal View Expressed by Steve Wolff

Apple’s Macintosh computer celebrates its 30th birthday this month. I often joke that, if the computer industry developed and deployed technologies at the rate our industry does, we’d still be using Pentium computers or one of those early Macs on our desktops – and good luck waiting for mobile phones or tablets to appear! The innovations that have succeeded in our industry tend to take up to 20 years to get from concept to lab prototype to deployment.

One example is the Secure 1000 whole body X-ray, which was briefly deployed at, and then withdrawn from, US and UK airports. The system (now owned by Rapiscan) was first developed in 1991, but it was not until 2009-10 before significant aviation security deployment had occurred. The device has now been superseded, despite – indeed because of – its superior image quality (perceived as being too invasive), by L3’s ProVision millimetre wave body scanner.

Bottle scanners should arrive just ahead of the 10-year anniversary of the UK liquid bomb plot, but to illustrate my point further, Quantum Magnetics (now part of Morpho Detection) developed the first bottle scanner (based on magnetic resonance) back in 1988!

My old boss at Quantum recently shared an excellent chart with me, which I include below, highlighting the results of a 1995 US Army Study comparing the time to market for two different development strategies: ‘technology push’ and ‘market pull’. Dwelling on this over the holiday season, along with this editorial deadline looming, got me thinking about our challenges and how we might speed up our innovation-to-deployment process.

‘Technology push’ is synonymous with the ‘build it and they will come’ philosophy that is common for new technology development but is a costly, inefficient way of defining and developing security solutions for our industry. To evolve towards a ‘market pull’ approach, several changes are needed.

First, regulators and end-users need to define various stages of a long-range vision: a step-by-step evolution of the end-to-end security process that prioritises the changes needed, defines and communicates performance standards, desired process modifications and corresponding technology needs. The IATA Checkpoint of the Future (recently renamed SmartS) is such a concept, though IATA and TSA’s current approaches are only a subset of the short- and long-term plan presented in the initial reports (disclosure: I was a co-author). What remains lacking is a vision that not only addresses prior threats (like liquid and underwear bombs) and improves passenger facilitation, but also evolves to counter those threats that we are finally starting to seriously discuss. These include suicide bombers internally concealing IEDs (either by simple insertion or via more risky surgical implantation) or internally smuggling IED components for later removal and assembly on the aircraft.


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