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The PNNL-developed shoe scanner builds on millimeter wave technology used in passenger scanners deployed at airports to detect concealed weapons. (Photo by Andrea Starr | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

The time is coming when you won't have to take your shoes off before passing through airport security.

Why it matters: Removing shoes at the TSA checkpoint is one of the most inconvenient rituals of flying in the U.S.

  • With newly developed shoe scanning technology — plus enhancements in existing body scanners — passengers will be able to get to their gates faster.

The improved screening tech was developed at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and funded by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

  • PNNL developed the body scanning booths already in use for about 15 years at airports worldwide.
  • They came up with the shoe scanner while working on a high-definition body scanner that can better identify threats while cutting down on false alarms requiring secondary screening.
  • PNNL recently licensed both technologies to a security company called Liberty Defense Holdings. Liberty plans to install them in airports starting in about 18 months.

How it works: Passengers pause for about two seconds on a low platform, where electromagnetic waves generate an image of the bottom of their shoes.

  • That allows screeners to detect whether there's a hidden object that may constitute a threat.

Flashback: In December 2001, three months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Richard Reid attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his sneakers on an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami.

  • Passengers thwarted his plan, and the plane landed safely in Boston.
  • Since 2006, airlines passengers have been required to remove their shoes before passing through security unless they are cleared via TSA Pre-Check.

The bottom line: Adding the shoe scanner could speed up the screening process by 15 to 20 percent, according to Liberty CEO Bill Frain.

  • Eventually, the goal is to screen passengers without stopping as they pass through a tunnel toward the airport gate.

Go deeper

Sep 11, 2021 - Politics & Policy

What's changed in 20 years

Photo illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios. Photos: Andrea Nieto, Susana Gonzalez, Mario Tama/Getty Images

Two decades later, we don't have to look hard to find changes in our lives that happened because of 9/11, from air travel headaches to fear-driven politics that still disrupts many Americans' lives.

  • Here we've identified the biggest changes that had a lasting impact — or foreshadowed broader social dilemmas we're grappling with today, like the vulnerabilities of the internet and our attitudes toward privacy.
6 hours ago - Health

Fauci: Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in U.S.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, cautioned on Sunday that the COVID-19 Omicron variant will "inevitably" be found in the United States.

Driving the news: Fauci, Biden's chief medical adviser, told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week" that U.S. officials will meet with colleagues from South Africa later on Sunday to try to determine the severity of the cases, as countries scramble to learn more about the variant.

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Dems fear supply-chain blame

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As supply-chain kinks drive up prices and disrupt holiday shopping, Democrats are scrambling to show action and deflect blame.

Why it matters: With their party controlling both the White House and Capitol, vulnerable Democrats worry supply-chain snafus will hurt them in next year's midterms.