These technologies use quadrupole resonance (QR), a technique that bombards the atoms in a targeted area with radio frequencies similar to AM radio. Unlike backscatter or active millimeter wave body scanners, Morpho’s QR technology doesn’t detect anomalies, it detects explosives. The small radio frequency released by the bombarded atoms acts as a signature, allowing the technology’s detectors to identify the materials.
“Not every material has a QR signature, but it happens to be that a few explosive categories have very nice QR signatures,” says Jay Hill, executive vice president of strategy and technology at Morpho. “They often tend to be the more sophisticated high-interest explosives.”
Morpho has also developed a full-body QR portal with an integrated metal-detection capability. Europe could be a big market for that technology considering the EU’s ban on backscatter machines and France’s and Germany’s decision not to deploy millimeter wave machines because of high false-alarm rates. “We’re looking very closely at what that leaves for people screening,” Hill says. “The question then [for European airports] is ‘What is their method for screening people at checkpoints?’”
In the United States, the company believes its niche is adding capabilities to the present checkpoint since TSA has already invested heavily in backscatter and millimeter wave technology. Hill says that shoe scanners, which would eliminate the need for passengers to remove their shoes, could be dropped in almost anywhere along the security line, while the scanning wands could be deployed for use in secondary screening or used in airports that don’t have enough real estate to accommodate backscatter and millimeter wave machines.
Another advantage of QR technology, and possibly its biggest selling point in the future, is its ability to detect explosives hidden within the human body. In September 2009, a suicide bomber belonging to the terrorist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was believed to have detonated a bomb in his anal cavity during an assassination attempt on Saudi prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the kingdom’s top counterterrorism official. Later reports said the bomb was an underwear bomb, much like Abdulmutallab tried to detonate on board a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day 2009. Nevertheless, the threat of cavity bombs, recently in the news again, is taken seriously.