Plane passengers could soon be scanned for bombs as they swipe their boarding pass, a Japanese company said Wednesday, unveiling the world's first explosive-detecting departure gate.
Engineers from hi-tech firm Hitachi showcased a machine that blows a short puff of air at a passenger's hand as he scans his pass.
It then sucks in that air -- along with all the minute particles that have been blown off the hand -- and instantly analyses whether there are any explosive substances present, said senior chief researcher Minoru Sakairi.
All that takes about one to two seconds, short enough to keep people moving through the gate and onto the plane, he said.
"This allows screening of all passengers and can make air travel safer," Sakairi said.
The device is intended as an extra layer of security on top of existing measures, such as metal detectors, pat-downs and x-ray scanners, he said.
The gate is most effective in finding those who may have hidden non-metal-based bombs on their bodies, like the man who concealed plastic explosives in his underwear on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit in 2009.
"Since the Detroit incident, searches on individuals have become more stringent to pick up people who may carry explosives on them," Sakairi said.
"This boarding gate should serve as an important tool to scan particles on all passengers," he said.
Explosive materials are highly adhesive and can stay for some time on anyone who has handled them, or on their clothing, bags and any other items they may have touched, Hitachi researchers said.
The technology can also be used for gates at train stations and concerts, government buildings and sporting venues such as Olympic stadiums, Hitachi said.
They acknowledged that the machine also picks up people who legally work with chemicals with explosive characteristics, such as farmers using fertilisers and angina patients who take nitroglycerin.
The company plans further experiments at airports and train stations before deciding whether to commercialise the prototype device, Sakairi said.
Hitachi teamed up with the Nippon Signal Co and the University of Yamanashi to develop the prototype boarding gate with a 290 million yen ($3.7 million) grant from the government.