X-ray screening technology is ever-developing. The advent of artificial intelligence is bringing new dimensions to these technologies as well as new requirements. In this feature, we have reached out to industry experts to assess how digitalization has affected X-ray screening technology, the peculiarities of equipment calibration, and how training for the operation of X-ray screening technology is developing.
Digitalization and Artificial Intelligence
Recent advances in digitalization and artificial intelligence (AI) have had a significant impact on security X-ray screening technology and inspection processes, according to Dr. Omar AlKofahi, vice president of technology of Integrated Defense & Security Solutions (IDSS). “AI has enabled automated threat recognition (ATR) algorithms which detect various types of threats, including explosives, weapons, opioids, and other types of contraband,” he says. “Further, adopting open software architecture and standardized image formats, such the DICOS format, has powered the integration of multiple devices and algorithms aimed at speeding the inspection process, increasing detection performance, and improving passengers’ experience. The open software architecture along with faster network infrastructure also allows operators and image analysts to be deployed at remote locations.”
Indeed, digitalization has been one of the major developments in the security industry over the past 10 years, affirms Dr. Philo Daniel, global director of aviation and urban security at Smiths Detection. “Driven by artificial intelligence, automation and connectivity, new digital technologies push productivity up and bring costs down, and ultimately improve both the passenger and the operator experience,” she highlights. “Connectivity and integration applications now enable connecting various screening devices into one network, allow intelligent workflow control and support centralized image evaluation as well as data aggregation.”
Advanced detection applications have increased security outcomes by delivering additional detection and image interpretation capabilities, making it easier to identify more of what could be passing through your operation, according to Dr. Daniel. “At Smiths Detection we continually develop and optimize our iCMORE family of automatic object recognition algorithms based on deep learning to detect prohibited items, dangerous goods, currency and other items,” she says. “In aviation security, the introduction of the new ECAC standards for the certification of automated prohibited items detection systems (APIDS) algorithms will soon bring alarm-only viewing to the checkpoint. The main benefit is a significant reduction in the number of images manually inspected so, when combined with automated lanes and centralized screening, this will greatly improve resource utilization.”
Calibration of X-Ray Screening Technology
The core of X-ray technology is mature, and the same is true for system calibration technologies and processes, highlights Dr. AlKofahi. “However, the adoption of open software architecture has powered the remote monitoring of scanner and operator performance, and pre-emptive detection of degraded scanner performance and failures,” he says.
The calibration of X-ray screening technology involves the process of ensuring that the system operates accurately and consistently in detecting objects and materials of concern, explains Dr. Daniel. “The X-ray system’s imaging components, such as the detectors and sensors, need to be calibrated to ensure accurate and reliable image formation in such a way that optimize image quality, contrast, and resolution,” she says. “When the system is first installed, it undergoes an initial setup process. This involves configuring various parameters and settings to optimize its performance.”
Most X-ray security screening systems also require regular maintenance to ensure optimal performance, affirms Dr. Daniel. “This includes periodic re-calibration to maintain accuracy. Maintenance schedules and calibration procedures vary depending on the specific system. Operators make use of certified test kits to ensure that the X-ray system is working to specification,” she says.
In parallel with how X-ray screening technology is developing, the most important training aspects include the skill set of the human operator and image analysis, according to Dr. AlKofahi. “An operator’s alertness level may also be impacted by fatigue and distraction. The deployment of AI ATR algorithms reduces the reliance on the operator, where only images where the algorithm alarms are presented to the operator to review and decide. Presenting fewer images to the operator improves overall throughput and reduces operator fatigue,” he says.
For X-ray security solutions to continually perform at their best, well-trained staff are indeed paramount, according to Dr. Daniel. “As security screening evolves, with increasing automation and digitalization of processes, so must the training provided. We strongly believe that the best security and operational outcomes are achieved when people and machines work in harmony,” she says. “At Smiths Detection, we are focused on developing training solutions that meet the specific needs of our customers, we understand that when it comes to training one size does not fit all. With increasingly integrated and connected screening systems, it is becoming ever more important to understand the way operators interact with the equipment and that is based on their role and responsibilities, which are not standardized globally.”
While some operators may be required to manage divest and screen passengers, others have the additional responsibility of interpreting the X-ray images and determining if a threat or prohibited item is present, explains Dr. Daniel. “Ensuring that training accounts for differences in our customers standard operating procedures while also fitting into their overall training ecosystem is incredibly important,” she says. “A competent operator is one that has the appropriate knowledge, skills, behaviors and experience to conduct their role effectively, it is therefore our responsibility to ensure that our training meets the customers’ needs if we are to make the world a safer place.”
Next to ensuring bespoke training solutions, the approach to training delivery is also evolving, notes Dr. Daniel. “Indeed, while there is and always will be a place for in-person classroom-based courses, operator training is increasingly conducted virtually through online platforms or via blended formats. Today’s tools allow extremely high-quality simulation and visualization and enable the interactivity required for great learning results,” she points out.
In terms of training content, one major development at aviation security checkpoints in recent years is the move to CT scanning, and therefore from 2D to 3D imaging with much more information available to operators, affirms Dr. Daniel. “When managing a change like this, a comprehensive training plan is pivotal to ensure a smooth transition. Positively, research suggests that operators adapt well to the new systems when appropriately trained with no difference in image analysis time between 2D and 3D imaging. Operator performance is further supported by the human-centered design of the graphical user interface which has also been found to improve operator performance,” she says. “Our HI-SCAN 6040 CTiX interface was developed in close cooperation with end-users following an iterative data-driven approach. Extensive user interviews and on-site observations of their workflows were conducted before the start of the project. This way fact-driven decisions on the optimal layout and functionalities could be made quickly, always ensuring that the graphical user interface (GUI) is designed to support the operator’s performance.”
Seeing the Future
Digitalization will continue to evolve and further shape X-ray screening solutions, according to Dr. Daniel. “The future will be driven by data, differentiated screening and the use of integrated sensors and devices from multiple providers. It will require open equipment interfaces and common data formats with an oversight mechanism to provide assurance on aspects such as technical standards, certification and liability,” she concludes.