ACID - Accelerated Contraband Identification by Diffraction

Lead Research Organisation: Nottingham Trent University
Department Name: School of Science & Technology


ACID will combine two disruptive technologies to produce the fastest and most reliable automatic contraband identification security scanner. The innovative ACID scanner uses a unique, patented X-ray diffraction method from Nottingham Trent Universities (NTU) and Cranfield (CU) Universities and a world leading energy resolving X-ray detector from STFC to be able to identify threat and contraband materials such as drugs and explosives.

The ACID technology is needed as current state of the art security scanners cannot discriminate robustly threat and contraband materials from everyday items. This leads to high false alarm rates, manual secondary scans/searches, which cause bottlenecks at security checkpoints and still do not identify many contraband items [1]. The current methods of measuring the transmitted X-rays through a cluttered inspection volume to estimate the density and average atomic numbers of the materials that might be present do not provide sufficient sensitivity or specificity. ACID will measure diffracted X-ray flux to enable the calculation of the spacing between atomic planes or d spacings to provide a unique "chemical fingerprint" to identify material phase.

X-ray diffraction is a well-established technique that has been used for many years to characterise materials in the laboratory environment. Until now, X-ray diffraction has been a relatively slow technique, which has prohibited its use in areas such as security screening. ACID overcomes these limitations by using patented focal construct geometry (FCG) that provides an "amplified" diffraction signal and the HEXITEC energy resolving imaging detector to provide a high rate measurement over the entire diffraction signal range of interest whilst using only conventional X-ray sources. This unique combination of technique and technology is essential to provide an accurate, fast, cost-effective and automatic security scanner that can identify contraband and threat materials.

The ACID project will deliver a scanner to automatically identify contraband in postal and personal items such as phones and laptops. This will provide a platform technology that can address immediately the increasing need to screen such items at secure facilities, large events and soft urban targets such as railway stations. The project partners include Halo X-ray Technologies Ltd (a spin out of NTU and CU) who will take this ACID scanner to market and develop a range of automatic contraband identification scanner products.

There is a clear market drive to have technologies such the ACID scanner deployed as we move into the next decade. The CLASP funding is essential to combine two areas of UK expertise and enable the ACID technology to be developed to a sufficiently mature level to address this time limited market. The automated ACID scanner will not only make security screening easier, faster and more pleasant for the public it will importantly meet the ever increasing need to make our borders, cities and buildings safer by identifying threat and contraband materials.


Planned Impact

The ACID scanner will take unique UK technology, techniques and expertise to solve a global security need to automatically identify contraband and threat materials. The impact form the ACID technology will be wide ranging with quicker screening for the public, more accurate and cheaper to operate automatic machines for security providers, economic growth and job opportunities in the UK and ultimately a reliable method to stem the flow of narcotics and threat materials that will make our buildings, infrastructure and boarders more secure.

The ACID scanner developed in this project will address the market of screening personal items and post in secure facilities, at large events and at urban soft targets such as railway stations. We conservatively estimate that this scanner will have access to an addressable market of $50M/year through Halo X-ray within 12 months from the end of the project. The technology in the ACID scanner will form the basis of a full baggage scanner with investment from Halo X-ray and a separate research grant (separate to and outside the scope of the CLASP call) within NTU and CU to deconvolve the diffraction signal in large cluttered items. This larger scanner will address the full security screening market that is expected to reach $9.1B by 2020 as it grows with a CAGR of 9.5%. The market is largely driven by TSA who will be replacing all of the scanners in 450 of their airports, with a desired to us automated detection such as ACID, as we move into the next decade. As the scanners have a lifetime of 10+ years it is essential that the ACID project develops the personal item scanner and platform technology now to meet this time limited demand.

Halo X-ray, who have the sole rights to exploit the FCG technique, anticipate c.£25M income over the 5 years from the end of this project, which would generate c.£0.5M of license revenue for STFC. This will also lead to the employment of up to 30 skilled people in the UK.

The automatic identification of the contraband and threat materials in the ACID scanner will have multiple benefits. Security screening will be quicker as secondary scans and false alarms will be negated, resulting in a more pleasant process for the public and a cheaper to operate scanner with fewer staff for the security provider.

The highly specific identification of materials in the ACID scanner will make it possible to identify almost any material and easily target new contraband such as legal highs or embargoed goods by updating the library of materials that are checked against the measured diffraction patterns. This will make the scanner easy to deploy in intelligence lead and targeted operations but also ensures the technology will meet future demands.

The ACID technology could be used directly in a number of other markets such as screening for fake pharmaceuticals (estimated $5M/year market). With some additional development it could be used to screen for bone fracture risk, replacing DEXA scans in a $100M/year market or for industrial process screening in the cement, mining and chemical industry with an addressable market of $85M/yr.

The most significant impact from the ACID scanner are the unquantifiable societal improvements that it could be part of. Although it could never be the sole force in preventing terrorist attacks or the import of narcotics it could be an invaluable tool to identify and deter such activities in the future. The ACID technology is a novel opportunity for the UK research community to make a major impact in this global need to be able to automatically identify the contraband that threaten our societies.


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Description The FCT diffraction technique combined with the Hexitec energy resolving detector was used to identify threats in laptops, parcels and letters when the conveyor is moving at normal speed. Further to this, adding extra optics allows depth sensitivity, as explained in the publication by from Evans' Imaging Science Group at NTU.
Exploitation Route The results are being used by the NTU Spin-off company HALO X-ray Technologies Ltd.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Transport

Description The findings help to support Halo X-ray Technologies a university spinout company based in Nottingham.
Sector Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology,Transport
Description EPSRC Healthcare Partnerships
Amount £750,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/R024316/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 06/2018 
End 06/2020
Description BAA13-05 - Advanced X-ray Material Discrimination 
Organisation Nottingham Trent University
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Nottingham Trent University have a project with the US DHS to develop technology for the next generation of security screening. STFC have/are providing detectors to help them to realize and maximize the performance of their technique for large, extended samples. STFC are delivering single HEXITEC detector modules with additional cooling to allow them to operate continuously for longer and an array of 2x2 HEXITEC detectors to better understand and differentiate between materials in large samples. There are supply agreements for the delivery of detectors.
Collaborator Contribution Nottingham Trent University have a project with the US DHS to develop technology for the next generation of security screening. Their project with the DHS started before the ACID project
Impact This project is still active and working towards the outcomes. The aim is to provide a method to quickly and accurately identify materials by their diffraction signature for security screening.
Start Year 2015
Company Name HALO X-ray Technologies Ltd 
Description HALO X-ray Technologies is an innovation company developing new and disruptive materials identification systems for aviation security, medical systems and process control applications. The HXT patent portfolio, currently licensed from our academic partners, protects our core IP. Industry-standard lab- and time-bound X-ray analysis techniques are now possible as real-time solutions for multiple industries by implementing new X-ray optics to dramatically improve signal strength. This significantly translates underlying and well-established science into a solution that can solve industrial and commercial applications at speeds required for these markets. As an example, aviation security has historically used technology that typically only estimates if a material is a threat. This leads to false alarms, long delays through checkpoints and frustrated passengers. HXT technology has capability to definitively identify material and for the first time at speeds that will enhance rather than slow checkpoint systems and at a cost point that is well-aligned with our target markets. HXT platform technology can provide medical systems for point-of-care solutions to address an ageing population and process control systems providing definitive and rapid materials analysis to improve efficiency for in-line industrial manufacturing. HXT IP provides platform capability across numerous sectors, realising disruptive and compelling solutions and offering significant business opportunity in all areas of application. The current focus is on aviation and border security and there are a number of opportunities specifically for this sector, such as: - Drugs and currency detection for postal systems. - Personal electronic devices screening (PEDS). - Checkpoint screening system for explosives detection. 
Year Established 2012 
Impact Halo X-ray Technologies Ltd (HXT) has its offices and development facilities based in *BioCity Nottingham. HXT systems offer new opportunities to the aviation security environment and will be potentially deployed in greater locations throughout the airport. The aviation checkpoint will be improved as our technology and systems roll out and new HXT technology will facilitate additional security checks at the departure gate. *BioCity is a private limited company founded by the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University who are each part owners of the business.