Researchers Get $3.7 Million for Bomb Detection in Aircraft Baggage

The research team will design a system based on compressive management to more efficiently detect explosives.

Most travelers checking their bags for a trip are thinking about getting where they are going. Not Mark Neifeld, a professor in the University of Arizona’s College of Engineering. He is thinking about how to develop better mathematical tools to improve baggage scanner bomb detection.

Neifeld and his multidisciplinary team have been awarded $3.7 million, in two separate proposals, from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to advance X-ray detection of explosives, especially emerging homemade bombs, in checked baggage aboard commercial aircraft.

Building on their U.S. Department of Defense work in KECoM, or Knowledge Enhanced Compressive Management, Neifeld’s research team will develop an information-theoretic system design, based on the mathematics of compressive measurements, to more efficiently detect explosives.

Airport X-ray systems are not optimized for the detection of improvised explosive devices, explained Neifeld. They collect far more visual information than is needed because they do not effectively differentiate between the clutter and the threat.

“In such a highly resource-constrained environment, it is critical that all measurement resources be directed toward the optimal extraction of task-relevant information,” he said.

The system under development will enable the collection of less data but much more relevant information, and the process will be quicker. It is expected to increase detection rates of explosives, while reducing the cost of X-ray scanning.

Neifeld’s electrical and computer engineering co-investigators on the project include Amit Ashok, who holds a joint appointment in the College of Optical Sciences, Ali Bilgin, who holds a joint appointment in biomedical engineering, and Michael Gehm, who recently joined the faculty at Duke University.