TSA Wants New Ideas to Speed Up Checkpoints

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The agency is looking for established technologies that could eliminate physical pat-downs and shoe removals.

The Transportation Security Administration knows it takes too long to get through airport security and that people don’t like taking off their clothing or getting a pat-down from a security officer and is looking for innovative technological options for improving the process.

The agency is building a new contract with six target areas designed to help TSA officials build the next generation of passenger screening that will be both faster for travelers and provide better security outcomes.

“To enable this mission objective, TSA [… is] looking to establish the next generation of [on-person screening] solutions with a focus on moving passengers through the checkpoint in a continuous manner, enhancing threat detection capabilities with reduced false alarm rates, installing display image standardization, and enabling operational connectivity through secure data transmission,” according to a targeted broad agency announcement posted to beta.SAM.gov.

TSA has embarked on a number of technology efforts to improve airport screening of passengers and baggage with the latest focused on the On-Person Screening program, most notably for travelers going through the main airport security checkpoints.

“The critical aspect of checkpoint screening is making sure that all individuals seeking entry to the airport sterile area are screened for person-borne threats to aviation. These include explosives, nonexplosive prohibited items, and chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear threats.”

The solicitation notes this extends beyond passengers to include non-traveling escorts—such as for a minor who will be flying alone—and airport and airline staff.

Currently, TSA’s screening process relies on advanced imaging technology units—in which travelers stand sideways with their arms raised above their heads—and walk-through metal detectors. But both those technologies rely on the passenger to remove clothing before entering and for a physical, hands-on pat-down if the system sees something remotely off.

“When an individual triggers an alarm during screening, a pat-down typically is required to resolve the alarm, which is uncomfortable to many individuals,” the document states.

The solicitation also notes both processes—removing clothing and manual pat-downs—are a bottleneck in the screening process.

Specifically, TSA is looking for technologies in six target areas:

  • Enhanced detection performance and throughput with technologies like machine learning, using the non-ionizing portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, scanning tools that don’t require perfect conditions and improved anomaly detection.
  • Footwear screening without travelers or employees needing to remove or modify their footwear.
  • Material discrimination, enabling systems to better determine the nature of the object being identified, including metallic, paper, ceramic, plastic, carbon fiber, etc.
  • Improved data visualization for security officers.
  • Synthetic data creation to improve machine learning algorithms.
  • New countermeasure systems and processes not outlined under the other target areas but in line with the general goal of the contract.

While TSA is looking for new ideas, the agency is not looking for untested technologies.

For proposals to be considered, the technologies used must be at Readiness Level 5 or higher to be considered.

Questions are due no later than 12 p.m. May 20. TSA is accepting concept paper until 3 p.m. June 23.

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