Northern Ireland

Airport security delays could be cut after money awarded to Queen's project

A queue at Belfast International Airport. File picture from Twitter
A queue at Belfast International Airport. File picture from Twitter

LONG airport security queues could be cut after a researcher at Queen's University Belfast was awarded a £1 million grant to develop new technology.

Airport passengers are being subject to increased security checks in recent years, sometimes leading to long queues.

Last March, passengers at Belfast International Airport complained of missing flights amid long security delays.

Dr Okan Yurduseven, from the Institute of Electronics, Communications and Information Technology at Queen's, aims to develop a process which will cut the time it takes to collect and process data through scanners from 10 seconds to less than a tenth of a second.

Security scanners are frequently used at large events including concerts and major sporting fixtures.

Dr Yurduseven said the new technology could also make screening for weapons or explosives more effective.

In 2015, undercover investigators at US airports found that screeners, who are employed by the US's Transportation Security Administration, failed to detect mock explosives and weapons in 95 per cent of tests.

Dr Yurduseven said it normally takes some time for passengers to pass through airport scanners.

"When we walk through the scanner, it can take around 10 seconds to collect and process the data and reconstruct an image," he said.

"It takes even more when the data is sent to a controller, who then manually checks it for illegal items. It can also add extra time when there are false alarms.

"While this may not sound like very long, we have to take into account the huge volume of people filtering through airport security every day and this causes huge queues.

"More worryingly is that the current system has been investigated and issues have been raised in terms of how many illegal items could go unnoticed."

Dr Yurduseven is setting up a team of four PhD students and four post-doctoral research associates to work on the five-year project, funded by the Leverhulme Research Leadership Award.

"By integrating machine learning into the design process, we will substantially reduce the false alarm rates in detecting threat objects," he said.

"The outcome of this project will be of vital importance to ensure the safety of the public right across the globe.

"In order to do this we will use state-of-the-art millimetre-wave radar systems. We expect that the end result will be a much more effective system, leading to safer outcomes and reduced waiting times – so hopefully shorter queues at airports and other venues that use these scanners."