Passport Systems was founded in 2002 by a group of preeminent nuclear physicists, engineers and computer scientists. Its mission: to develop inspection/detection systems—built on breakthrough technologies—that would address the real threats facing the world today. The idea was to challenge notions of what existing security systems could do to protect people, borders and economies. “As it often happens, it took an emergency like 9-11 to bring together a group of people who were working on disparate problems to focus on a singular issue,” said Robert Ledoux, President, CEO and Director of Passport Systems.
The first problem that Passport addressed was how to identify threats concealed in sea, air and land cargo with greater accuracy and speed. “We quickly realized we couldn’t accept what was already out there,” said Ledoux. “We didn’t want to just create a better X-ray picture. Why? Because you could easily look at that improved image and still not recognize a threat as a threat. So our question became: How can we generate information about what it is—not just what it looks like?”
After years of development, the answer to this query evolved into SmartScan 3D™, a cargo inspection system. SmartScan 3D is currently under construction at the Massachusetts Port Authority (Massport), Port of Boston, representing the next phase of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office initiative under the Nuclear and Radiological Imaging Platform-Advanced Technology Demonstration project awarded to Passport Systems in 2012. The system is expected to be operational in Massport in early 2016.
Unlike current systems that rely solely on the operators’ eyes to detect contraband, SmartScan 3D interrogates cargo based on its material properties. It targets and detects materials of interest, alerting the operator to the presence of the contraband, while supplying a 3-dimensional location of the alarm. Not only is the system capable of automatically detecting nuclear material, explosives, drugs, nerve agents, firearms components and other contraband; it has the sensitivity to differentiate water from alcohol, granite from marble.
“We threw conventional wisdom out the door when it came to cargo scanning by approaching it from a materials differentiation standpoint,” said Ledoux. “I think we could do that because we weren’t already entrenched in the existing installed base of equipment, so we weren’t thinking evolutionary, we were thinking revolutionary.”
Passport brought this same thinking to the table when developing its second product family, the SmartShield™ Networked Radiation Detection System. The problems that SmartShield addresses are many: but let’s start with this: Picture a police officer on the street patrolling a large public event. It’s the perfect scenario for a terrorist looking to wreak havoc. Suddenly, the radiation detector on the police officer’s belt alarms. He looks at the device. The detector gives him the isotope, but all the officer really knows is that a source of radiation is nearby—somewhere. It might be naturally occurring radiation (he knows there’s some granite underground in the area). It’s likely a false alarm. Maybe he shouldn’t bother anyone about it. But maybe not. Because maybe it’s a dirty bomb. Maybe he’s the only one who could stop a catastrophic event. Not sure what to do, he radios command …
SmartShield grew out of a vision that a system of networked radiation detectors working together would be more sensitive, more accurate and more informative than individual detectors working independently.
In the SmartShield system, multiple detectors are networked together to share data; they act, in essence, as one large distributed device that offers significant new capabilities. Now picture our same officer, this time with a SmartShield detector paired with its companion smartphone. SmartShield is automated; it not only identifies the isotope, it provides the category of isotope (comparing the data in real time against a background radiation map), and it geolocates the source. The system automatically shares this information with everyone else on the network. If the threat seems real, within moments, the officer has backup from other responders and hazmat professionals, and he has the backing of his commander, who can use the system to view everything that everyone—up and down the chain of command—can see.
The result: rapid pre-emptive responses against radiological threats—a win for first responders, hazmat professionals, commanders, and, of course, the citizens relying on their protection.