My first millimeter wave scanner experience was … ok

When I saw the machine at the security checkpoint this morning, I cringed. I saw passengers in the line ahead of me going in one by one before standing with their arms above their heads, and I immediately thought of the revealing images we all heard about when the technology was discussed a few years ago.

When it came to my turn, I stepped into the booth, assumed the scarecrow position, and went through this process:


Five seconds later and it was all over. I was ok to proceed. And the experience itself wasn’t that bad really. Though it was made a lot more comfortable when I got to the other side and saw that the images being seen by airport security staff were a lot less detailed than the pics everyone was hoo-haa-ing about online a while back.

It turns out that the machine I went through was a millimeter wave scanner, the second generation of scanners used in US airports. The first rollout of scanners were in fact the full body x-ray machines; the science fiction nightmare contraptions that reveal everything under your clothes to the person behind the screen.

The differences in the detail produced by each of the technologies are instantly apparent:

So it’s hardly surprising that the TSA ditched the x-ray machines after just three years. Lucky me!