Having to dump your bottled liquids as you go through airport security has become a frustrating addition to flying headaches in recent years, but the awesome power of lasers could soon ensure your flask contains Evian not napalm. Cobalt Light Systems has cooked up the INSIGHT100, a laser scanning system that can differentiate dangerous substances from safe ones while they're still in their container, opening the aircraft doors to water bottles, perfume and toothpaste.
Lurking on the counter like an oversized microwave, the INSIGHT100 can identify liquids, powders and gels inside sealed containers such as glass or plastic bottles or tubs, even if those containers are opaque. The system is said to have a false alarm rate of 1.5-percent or less, and each scan takes under five seconds.
The magic is in something called Spatially Offset Raman Spectroscopy (SORS), bouncing certain spectra of light off a substance depending on the molecules that substance is made up of. As each substance scatters light in different ways, the INSIGHT100 can recognize which are safe and which could be potentially dangerous. Cobalt says it can subsequently update the scanner's database as new molecular "fingerprints" are identified.
Having already been approved by the European Civil Aviation Conference for its abilities to check for liquid explosives, it's seemingly down to airports to decide whether to include the INSIGHT100 in their scanning arsenal. Of course, loosening the regulations around bottled water might make things easier for travelers, but it would also cut into a useful extra revenue stream for retailers and airlines; whether they'll be so happy is questionable.