The DHS' new molecular scanner sees everything

Imagine a device that can instantly tell if you may have been involved in a drug deal, recently fired a gun, what you just ate, and if you're hiding anything under your clothes. Sounds like sci-fi? Don't worry, it's not – it's just the latest wonderfully intrusive project from your friends at the Department of Homeland Security.

Alright, so the whole deal sounds a little bit far-fetched, and it's hard not to lean a little towards the skeptical side of things. But if such a device were plausible (the DHS says that they'll be employing them in the field within a couple of years), it would give whoever was controlling it an unprecedented level of observation. If you thought the naked airport scanners were creepy, you ain't seen nothing yet.

The machine, which looks a little bit like an old radio, is being built by a company called Genia Photonics. Basically, it shoots a laser off into the distance and, for what is for all intents and purposes instantaneously, sends data on a molecular level back to a computer which analyzes the wavelengths and patterns to figure out what it's looking at. Not only does that mean it will be able to tell if you're trying to hide a gun, it also means that it'll know if you have any traces of drugs on your body or, if someone cared, how many hairs were on your head.

Originally, Genia was aiming for something a bit more 'positive' than playing Big Brother. They hold 30 patents based around their scanner technology, ranging from identifying cancer cells to keeping harmful chemicals out of manufacturing processes. The DHS thought it was a little too good to pass up, though.

And unlike the scanners and metal detectors you encounter in airports today, Genia Photonics' molecular scanner doesn't need you to stand still, or walk through a silly little archway. Oh no; if you want to avoid it, you're out of luck, because it's totally unobtrusive. On one hand, that could mean that you'll get in and out of security faster, since the scanner can do its job so much faster, and on a much larger scale, than anything we've got today. On the other hand, it means that it scans anything unlucky enough to step into its radius (about 164 feet).

Despite the huge benefits these scanners could offer, they end up sounding way more like something from dystopian sci-fi than some sort of life saving device. Heck, a team at George Washington University even developed a similar system that could detect drug metabolites in urine instantaneously. And while we're not so sure about how well it'll work in the field, this technology is almost here, and the privacy implications are stunning. Who knows, maybe you'll (not) see one in a bathroom near you in the near future.

Source: Gizmodo | Image via Gizmodo

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