Monday, February 01, 2010

Detecting Bombs in Air Cargo

Dr Yi Liu described the CSIRO Air Cargo Scanner and its Development and Commercialization at ANU today. Surprisingly this is developed by a group of researchers who previously worked on analysing minerals in mines and processing plants. This used neutrons, X-rays and other techniques to discover the chemical composition and shape of minerals at a distance. This experience was applied to detecting bombs and illicit materials in air cargo. This is more difficult than for normal airport luggage, as the cargo containers are much larger and can have a clutter of different materials. The work started in 2002 and prototype was produced in 2005, with the produce now commercialised by Nuctech.

Neutrons can be used to detect the composition of material , but not density or precise shape (20mm x 20mm resolution). X-rays can be used for density and more precise shapes (5 mm x 5 mm) but not composition. A combination of scanning techniques are therefore used to identify both the shape and composition of materials.

The Mark II scanner is at Brisbane Airport. The device has a concrete shield for safety. Cargo containers travel trough the scanner on a conveyor. The system produces a combined false colour image. In a demonstration image the rubber of a motorcycle seat shows as red and the oil in the sump as green, while the metal is black. The operator sits an a normal office desk and views the images on a computer LCD display. The unit is not intended for people or animals, but even so the radiation is at a safe level.

The commercial version from Nuctech works essentially the same as the prototype, but has improvements with a quasi-3D display, dual energy X-ray system and a water radiation shield. The unit has 960 fixed neutron detectors (levels are too low to use a moving detector). The ray system has two detectors at 9 degrees for each x-ray source to provide some three dimensional information.

Future work is on automatic highlighting of suspicious objects in the container, use for sea and land containers and better neutron sources and detectors.

One suggestion I made at the seminar was automatic matching of the manifest to the material detected. Modern manifests are in machine readable format, so the computer system could work out what proportion of materials should be in the container and compare this to what is detected by the scan. The computer system could also look for suspicious similarities between different containers, even those entering at different ports. Also air containers have transparent sides. An optical scanner could also be used (perhaps using infrared). A high resolution optical scanner could be used to recognise any writing on the contents and use this in automated or manual analysis. Analysis could include use of open source analysis, such as information from the web.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

CSIRO Air Cargo Bomb Scanner

The "CSIRO Air Cargo Scanner" is a new device for detecting illicit and dangerous cargo. This combines gamma ray and neutron scanning to detect combinations of metallic and organic compounds, including bombs. There will be a seminar on the CSIRO Air Cargo Scanner Development and Commercialization at ANU, 2pm, 1 February 2010:


CSIRO Air Cargo Scanner Development and Commercialization

Yi Liu (CSIRO Process Science and Engineering)

DATE: 2010-02-01
TIME: 14:00:00 - 15:00:00
LOCATION: RSISE Seminar Room, ground floor, building 115, cnr. North and Daley Roads, ANU

CSIRO has developed world first technology combining neutrons and X-rays to present and detect the composition as well as the shape and density information of objects in air cargo. This technology will help Customs to detect contraband and threats hidden in consolidated air cargo more easily.

The presentation will briefly introduce the principles of the technology and the scanner system development. The scanner has been successfully commercialised with a Chinese security equipment specialist - Nuctech Company Ltd.

Dr Yi Liu obtained a B.Sc. degree in Applied Mathematics from Zhongshan (Sun Yatsen) University, Guangzhou, China in 1982. He then worked at the Control Theory Research Laboratory, Institute of System Sciences at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (in Beijing) for 3 years before moving to Australia for further education. He obtained his Ph.D. degree in Systems Engineering from the Australian National University, Canberra in 1989. After a short stay in the Mathematics Department, University of Western Australia as a research officer, he joined CSIRO in 1990 working in the areas of On-line Analysis and Control.

Dr Liu's main research interests have been in the areas of signal processing, artificial intelligence, process modelling, control and optimisation and their applications for mineral and energy industries. And more recently, he has been working in the areas of image processing and pattern recognition and their applications to air cargo security scanning. The CSIRO Air Cargo Scanner has been successfully commercialised with a major overseas security company.

Dr Liu was a co-recipient of the IEE (London) Kelvin Premium best paper award in 1989, the CSIRO Medal for research achievement in 2006, and the Eureka Prize for outstanding science in support of defence or national security in 2009.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Functional Online Travel Booking System

Having given up trying to book airline flights with the Qantas, Jetstar and VirginBlue web sites, I was wondering what to do next. On my blog posting Google AdWords had placed a banner ad for WebJet. So I went to their web site (I didn't click on the ad, as that would violate the rules about clicking on your own ads). I found the WebJet web site allowed me to book multiple flights at once (which Virgin did not). It also allowed me to book one flight with Virgin Blue and another with JetStar (which neither airline's system would allow). I was able to register with the WebJet system after having selected the flights.

The system was still not completely trouble free. On Firefox for Linux the Web 2.0 interface tended to jump around. A screen refresh would result in blocks of content moving around the screen for a few seconds as content arrived. Also the left third of the screen was a plain block of colour most of the time.

Perhaps the company should introduce an accessible mobile version of their web site. That is one designed for a smart phone and for people with a disability. That would reduce the amount of stuff the web designer could clutter the screen with.

Just as I was about to confirm my booking I noticed an option for saving my travel search, I clicked this and found that rather than saving everything it erased the details and I had to start again. However, that was a minor glitch.

About the only other problem I found was that WebJet did not allow me to enter more than one frequent flier number when registering (but I was allowed to enter it later).

Overall the online travel website option was a much more pleasant experience than airline web sites. Perhaps this is deliberate, with airlines wanting to concentrate on providing flights and leaving the booking process to specialists.

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Non-functional Virgin Blue Online system

Having given up trying to book online with Jetstar, I decided to try VirginBlue to book some flights. As I am a member of the Virgin Velocity Rewards program, I tough this would be simple enough to do. First I had to recover my forgotten password, which was easy enough when I discovered Virgin had a completely separate web site for the rewards program. But then I found that while the password works fine on the rewards program web site, it doesn't work on the Virgin Blue web site.

You might ask why don't I book first and worry about rewards later, but there also appears to be no way to book multi-stop flights on the Virgin system (that is not just a simple return flight). So I would have to enter all my details twice (which I don't need to do if I use my rewards number).

An airline booking system is one of those classic computer applications which I assumed had been sorted out by now. Perhaps I should get the ICT students at the ANU onto fixing it.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Non-functional Jetstar Online system

In attempting to book a flight via the web with Jetstar, it appears there is no way for me to actually register in their system. As an existing Qantas frequent flyer customer, I am asked to enter my Qantas user id and password. For Qantas my user id is my frequent flyer number. But Jetstar's system then rejects that user id as it is not a valid email address. I attempted to contact Jetstar about this, but they do not appear to have any way to do so in writing, apart from sending them a paper letter through the mail. Jetstar do not appear to accept email or messages viw their web site. Perhaps it would be simpler to travel VirginBlue.

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