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Airport security gets slippery when wet. The X-ray machine that scans your small plastic bag of carry-on liquids isn’t actually testing the Ziploc for explosives. Neither is the Transportation Security Administration agent who swabs down the bag, seemingly as an extra precaution. But the Department of Homeland Security wants to change all that with an ambitious new program — one that might be promising more than it can deliver.
A new DHS solicitation alerts the industry to a development project it’s calling the Advanced Bottled Liquid Scanner. Existing airport tools have to scan bottles of eyeliner or hand sanitizer one at a time to see if they contain flammables or explosives. Now DHS wants to build something that can test the contents of your entire carry-on liquids bag all at once, without opening any container to take a sample, even if a bottle is made of a dark plastic or a metal. It has to deliver an accurate analysis in under 20 seconds of samples as small as a single ounce of liquid or gel. And DHS wants a prototype in three years.