Is That Cream in Your Coffee, or Methyl Ethyl Ketone? DHS Seeking New Scanners

By Gregory Gwyn-Williams, Jr. and Susan Jones | October 18, 2012 | 8:10 AM EDT

Security checkpoint at Portland International Airport, in Portland, Ore. (AP Photo)

( - The Department of Homeland Security is seeking research proposals for the development of an "Advanced Bottled Liquid Scanner" to be used at airport passenger checkpoints.

The goal is to create a "state-of-the-art" scanner that can detect the presence of liquid explosives and flammable liquids in coffee, soft drinks, shampoo and all the other liquids and gels that the traveling public takes through security checkpoints or carries onto the plane.

The solicitation outlines the "parameters" of the project, as follows:

-- Detect contents within sealed containers such as glass, plastic and non-ferromagnetic metal;

-- Maintain detection capability regardless of the shape of the bottle and without the need to open the bottle;

-- Maintain detection capability during collective analysis of liquids and gels contained within a zip-top plastic bag;

-- For systems that indicate a threat or non-threat, it should take no  more than 20 seconds, on average, to screen each bottle or zip-top plastic bag;

-- For systems that specifically identify the threat, it should take no more than 60 seconds, on average, per bottle or zip-top plastic bag;

-- Automatically notify the operator if the liquid is benign or hazardous (explosive or flammable);

Research proposals for the development of the liquid scanner must be will no more than 11 pages, and they will be evaluated by DHS' Science and Technology department.  Those submitting "worthy" ideas will be invited to submit full proposals.

The 38-page project solicitation notes that the government encourages nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, small businesses, small disadvantaged business (SDB) concerns, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)/ Minority Institutions (MI) (HBCU/MIs), women-owned businesses (WB), and Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) zone enterprises as well as large businesses, academic institutions, and Government laboratories to submit research proposals for consideration and/or to join others in submitting proposals.

Restrictions on liquids and gels began in 2006, in response to a foiled terrorist plot to blow up U.S.-bound planes with liquid explosives brought onto planes in carry-on luggage. British authorities arrested dozens of suspects before they could carry out the plot.