No chance for hidden guns

Terahertz scan spots weapon
19 May 2009

Security start-up company Thruvision uses ESA developed space technology to screen passers-by for hidden objects.

Since the terrorist attacks on trains in Madrid and London and the last minute prevention of an assault on British planes heading to the USA, security is a number one topic in Europe and all over the world. It affects us all, as we can tell by the increased security measure at European airports: tightened controls for luggage contents and higher number of body checks are omnipresent. But those means are lengthy, tiresome and far from comprehensive – a drop into the ocean, considering that random sample strip-searches can never be exhaustive.

Start-up company ThruVision, with the help of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office, transferred space-based ESA developed terahertz imaging technology into their security device T5000 which makes it possible to screen people for concealed objects without them even noticing.

Terahertz imaging technology

Terahertz reveals unexplored world
Terahertz reveals unexplored world in ESA let StarTiger project

Unlike light, terahertz waves are able to propagate through cloud and smoke providing a powerful advantage for certain remote sensing measurements. From a practical aspect they are also able to pass through windows, paper, clothing, and in certain instances even walls.

Terahertz imaging technology is already used in astronomy applications to research comets or planets as well as in the field of Earth observation to monitor different properties of our planet, for example to measure and visualize the sea surface temperature. But the terahertz imaging instruments used for space applications are quite costly, as the discrete metal components used are difficult to integrate.

ESA led project StarTiger implemented a new approach of developing those instruments. A novel methodology, silicon manufacturing, made the technology easier and cheaper to produce. No integration is needed. It occurs automatically, as the instrument is manufactured entirely and in one go. This facilitates the creation of arrays. The StarTiger concept of putting together a team of researchers in a distraction-free environment with priority access to facilities and testing devices led to big technology advancement in a very short time and thus made the terahertz technology fit for terrestrial use.

Novel remote screening for concealed objects without invading privacy

Display of concealed objects

ThruVision catapulted the terahertz imaging technology into the commercial world: with the help of ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Office. ThruVision was able to transfer the technology to their passive security screening device T5000.

The device is composed of a camera unit and a remote laptop PC linked to the camera by Ethernet connection. It displays images of concealed objects on stationary and walking subjects at distances up to 25 metres. Concealed object and CCTV images are displayed in real time on the operator’s remote notebook PC, which may be any distance from the T5000 camera unit.

Usable indoors as well as outdoors, the application opportunities for the device are vast: Border or checkpoint control, airport security or entrance screening for e.g. big events are only some examples of the versatility of the system, which can screen for a wide range of concealed objects such as explosives, composites, metals, narcotics or liquids.

ThruVision uses space technology
Space technology to improve airport security

Another advantage of this terahertz screening technology is the way the images are created. Concealed objects are displayed by passively detecting naturally occurring terahertz waves emitted by all people and objects.

No anatomical details are revealed in the imaging process, avoiding many regulatory barriers associated with public use.

4.4 Million Euro venture capital

ThruVision’s pioneering space-based terahertz imaging system triggered Venture Capitalist Noble Venture Finance to invest 4.4 Million Euro (3.7 Million Pound) into the promising start-up company. According to Andrew Webster, Director at Noble Venture Finance, it was ThruVision’s high potential in a breadth of applications of its technology in the rapidly growing security market that attracted the Venture Capitalist to go forward with the investment. ThruVision announced the new finances will be used as working capital for both company and product range expansion.

ESA's Technology Transfer Programme Office (TTPO)

The main mission of the TTPO is to facilitate the use of space technology and space systems for non-space applications and to demonstrate the benefit of the European space programme to European citizens. The office is responsible for defining the overall approach and strategy for the transfer of space technologies including the incubation of start-up companies and their funding. For more information, please contact:

ESA's Technology Transfer Programme Office
European Space Agency ESA
Keplerlaan 1, 2200 AG, Noordwijk ZH
The Netherlands
Phone: +31 (0) 71 565 6208
Email: ttp @

This article was published in the 'Space for Business', ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme Newsletter, 2009 issue 1.

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