A South Australian company is developing an innovative system to scan carry-on baggage at airports around the world, under a new contract with world leading security company Thales, after demonstrating the technology under contract with the UK Government.
Thales is a major global supplier of technology solutions for aviation.
Micro-X, which is based in Tonsley, Adelaide, recently demonstrated its lightweight X-ray imaging system that aims to detect explosives hidden in consumer electronics at the ‘Future Airport Security Solutions’ (FASS) industry event in London.
The new system was among a number of promising innovations, still in the prototype phase.
A passenger uses a self-baggage check-in machine at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in China. Source: ICHPL Imaginechina/AAP
“Heathrow Airport got extremely excited about it and basically helped us further the concept. They think it will be a new approach to self-service screening, just like you can do self-service passport scanning now,” Micro-X managing director Peter Rowland told SBS's Small Business Secrets.
The Micro-X system uses a combination of conventional and advanced X-ray imaging techniques to provide a unique high-resolution image of any electronic devices a person may be carrying.
“You want to know whether it’s a lump of C-4 explosive or a lump of cheese - because they look very similar to an ordinary X-ray,” Mr Rowland said.
Bomb scanning technology
Under the new deal, Micro-X will also collaborate with Thales on global sales for its counter-terrorism Mobile Backscatter Imager, used to assess Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs.
Both US and Australian Defence Forces gave positive feedback on an imaging performance demonstration for the Australian Defence Force's Counter-IED Task Force.
IEDs are commonly used as roadside bombs overseas.
“The army wanted ‘superman vision’, where they could just look at a backpack from one side, and see what was inside,” Mr Rowland said.
Micro-X MD Peter Rowland has commercialised carbon nanotechnology, for medicine and security. Source: SBS
“And the best thing about a stand-off imager is that you don’t need a human to go anywhere near it. You can put it on a robot, and the robot can go in and see what’s inside … and if it is a bomb, see how to defuse it”.
Health industry uses
Micro-X has also produced the world’s first carbon nanotube powered X-ray imager, a mobile X-ray machine that can be wheeled to a patient’s bedside.
The cart weighs less than 100kg, which means it’s easy to manoeuver around beds and suitable for use in ICU wards where patients often cannot be moved.
The cart weighs less than 100 kilograms and can be used to take x-rays in ICU wards. Source: SBS
“You can get into tight spaces, and you can see where the front of the cart is, and so you’re not going to hit respirators or pull intravenous lines out of patients by accident, because of a lack of visibility,” Mr Rowland said.
Professor Jamie Quinton, an expert in Nanotechnology at Flinders University said: “It’s ideal for people with mobility issues, who are now able to have treatments taken to them, and I think that it’ll revolutionise modern medicine.”
The carbon nanotube technology was first developed in North Carolina. Micro-X has commercialised it for medical devices, and global distributor Carestream Health is now selling the X-Ray carts back to hospitals in the US and Europe.
“It shows that product engineering is world standard in Australia,” Mr Rowland said.
Nigel Phair, director at UNSW Canberra Cyber, spent more than two decades with the Australian Federal Police and is now a technology and crime analyst.
He commends Micro-X for its technology developments.
“We’re early adopters with technology both as consumers and as businesses,” he said.
After two decades with the Federal Police, Nigel Phair is an expert in technology and security at UNSW Canberra Cyber. Source: SBS
But, he says, Australian entrepreneurs need more support.
“We still don’t invest highly enough in innovation as a nation, compared with OECD top 20 countries. We’re getting there and there are a lot of innovative and nimble organisations but, top-level down, it’s still quite piecemeal and the dollar figures just aren’t there.”
Micro-X is now developing a small 3D brain scanner with the aim to retro-fit ambulances.
The device would allow paramedics to scan stroke patients in ambulances, rather than transporting them to a hospital for imaging.
“With strokes, the golden hour is how quickly can you start treatment. Doctors need a CT image of the brain, to see whether it’s a bleed or a clot,” Mr Rowland said.
The company is working with the Melbourne Brain Centre and has applied for funding to support more extensive diagnostic imaging tests.