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TSA Installs RFID-enabled Screening System at Atlanta Airport to Cut Wait Times

The U.S. agency is piloting an automated system for screening carry-on bags and items that uses RFID-tagged bins, linking each bin's tag ID with photo and X-ray images of its contents.
By Claire Swedberg

During the X-ray process, staff members can view the photograph of the bin's contents, alongside its X-ray images. In that way, they can view what is in the bin next to the X-ray details. If the system or employees detect a suspicious-looking shape that merits further investigation, the bin is automatically routed to a different conveyor lane for further screening. At that lane, a second RFID reader captures the bin's tag ID again, so that workers at this location can view the picture taken of that particular bin, based on its tag ID number.

The employees can also examine the items within the bin at a table dedicated to that purpose, using a handheld RFID reader to pull up the bin's photographic and X-ray images. In addition, they can view those details in order to ensure that they are looking at the correct bin.

Jacques Jean-Baptiste and his three children were the first passengers screened by the new automated lanes.
Staff members manning the X-ray machine typically do not need to verbally instruct the individuals searching the bags regarding what they should be looking for, because that information is visible to them on the handheld screen. Those searching the bags can also view the area of concern on the screen, and move more quickly to that section of a specific bag, thereby making the search process faster.

The automated conveyor system provided by MacDonald Humfrey is known as Mach-Smartlane, and it includes what the company refers to as Mach-SmartView functionality, consisting of RFID technology, as well as camera images and the automatic rejection of trays, which can be configured by the screening agency. (MacDonald Humfrey declined to provide additional details about its system for this story.)

London's Heathrow Airport has been using the Mach-Smartlane system for approximately two years. According to Howell, the TSA had looked at the Heathrow installation and wanted to try the technology in the United States. Initially, he explains, the solution is being tested only at two lanes. "Our hope is to expand it," Howell states. If the TSA finds that the system boosts efficiency, it would expand the deployment at Hartsfield-Jackson, and potentially to other airports as well. "We're going to look at the data. It's going to be tough to pick out what efficiency gains came from the RFID. But the RF gives us greater accountability from front to end."

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