While the safety of passengers is of paramount importance – as it should be – going through airport security in the 21st century can be a thoroughly noisome procedure.
Here are just a few examples from the familiar litany of passenger grievances: those queues that move at snail-like speeds; the order to remove one’s shoes, belts and various other accoutrements; feeling the heat of suspicion while being frisked by a security worker, as another rummages through your belongings.
Put starkly, airport security, as it remains, can be as unpleasant, undignified and invasive an experience as you can get. And, with escalating fears over the threat of global terrorism, the apparent likelihood is that such customs will only become more rigorous in the future.
The alternative: The benefits of self-service screening
However, Qylur, a California-based security tech firm is taking a welcome stand against the status quo. Operating out of Silicon Valley, the group has developed the Qylatron Entry Experience Solution, a self-service security screening system, and alternative to current measures.
Comprising of five pods, situated in a honeycomb formation around a central sensor, the Qylatron uses fusion technology to scan for both conventional and chemical weapons.
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It works as follows: passengers are required to hold their ticket up to the machine and are then allocated a pod, in which items are placed. Luggage is then screened and sent down a conveyor belt to the other side of the Qylatron, where it can be picked up using the same ticket to unlock the respective pod door. The passenger is then free to go.
Over the last year, the technology has been trialled at various public places, including New York’s Liberty State Park and a US sports stadium. The Qylatron also received favourable press coverage in June after its deployment at the Arena da Baixada stadium during the FIFA 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Qylur CEO and founder Lisa Dolev admits that the Qylatron wasn’t designed specifically with aviation in mind – more any arena with a high flow of people – but she realised early on that the machine naturally lent itself to the airport sector, in which mitigating security threats is a daily challenge. Ever since, demand has been high.
"Our initial focus was not on the aviation sector," she explains. "But we then started to have an awful lot of requests from airports, which were looking to restructure in terms of efficiency and passenger courtesy. Last year, we conducted a trial at a local airport in Brazil with a high flow of commuters and business travellers – who often like to get through security as quickly as possible. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive."
There are also differences when it comes to installing the Qylatron at an airport, compared to the likes of a sports stadium, claims Dolev. What are the unique factors that need to be taken into consideration?
"There are a couple of major differentiators," she says. "For instance, at a sports arena, spectators usually don’t have more than one bag, so require the use of only one pod. Or, if families come along with multiple small bags, they are allowed to put them in one pod, so as to increase the inflow. At an airport, a large percentage of passengers utilise two pods for two different items of baggage.
"Another big difference is the ticketing. In a stadium sports, you would really use the scanner at the front of the machine solely as a ticket-taking function. At a hub, the ticket also links into risk-based screening, with information relayed to various databases."
Bags of business: Cost benefits and the value of freeing up airport real estate
Then there are the cost benefits to consider. If the Qylatron is proven to scan tickets and screen bags with greater efficiency than traditional manual practices, it is estimated that airports could cut security staff numbers by as much as 50%.
"Expenditure is obviously a huge driver for airports, given the huge number of systems and technologies that they need to deploy," says Dolev. "Being able to save on labour costs is also an attractive incentive. Currently, an airport with four to five security lanes might need between 15-20 people; the Qylatron requires approximately five. That’s a significant drive-down."
In light of today’s airport real estate being at such a premium, the space freed up by the Qylatron is also a noteworthy benefit. The machine takes up approximately 450 square feet – spatial chicken feed in comparison to current systems. Consequently, Dolev is keen to emphasise the holistic business case of the Qylatron.
"It’s sometimes forgotten, but an airport is a business, and, just like any other, it needs customers," he says. "With more space comes more shops and places of custom. The Qylatron can tie into this. It’s really about combining the business aspect with the idea of safety. Security needn’t be a stand-alone, dreaded checkpoint."
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Coming to an airport near you?
Qylur is presently engaged in talks with several European airports, which have displayed interest in trialling the Qylatron on the back of its successful outing at the World Cup.
However, Dolev is pragmatic, cognisant of the fact that the airport regulatory landscape is a complex one, and that it might be a little while yet before we see the Qylatron commercially installed at an international airport.
"While we are incredibly optimistic, we are also aware that certification can take a really long time in the realm of aviation," she says.
"You have to realise that what we are doing is drastically different to traditional security methods. Having fused technology, we also have to work out how regulators will certify that – tomorrow’s certifications may differ from the ones of today."