TSA to try out self-screening prototype from company with Marietta HQ

Netherlands-based Vanderlande won $2.5 million contract for airport self-screening system

Some travelers at the Las Vegas airport will try out a new self-service security screening system starting Monday, after years of development of the prototype by a company in Cobb County.

Vanderlande Industries Inc., a Netherlands-based company with its North American headquarters in Marietta, specializes in logistics automation such as baggage handling systems in airports and other systems for warehouses and distribution. In 2021, Vanderlande won a $2.5 million contract from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to develop a TSA PreCheck self-screening concept for airports.

The idea is to improve the passenger experience and make the path through the checkpoint more efficient, particularly as travel volumes grow and airports are plagued with long lines and wait times.

On Wednesday, TSA showed off the new prototype checkpoint technology to media at what they call their “Innovation Checkpoint” at Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas. The system opens Monday to members of TSA’s trusted traveler PreCheck program who opt to go through the new system at the Las Vegas airport during the hours the checkpoint is open.

With the demo, a few dozen passengers passed through the new lanes on a trial basis.

“There were people who said ‘This is really cool. We liked this,’” said John Fortune, Screening at Speed program manager for DHS Science and Technology. But he acknowledged that “it’s been a little bit of a mixed bag. ... That’s exactly what you’d expect.”

Some passengers were frustrated because they “had challenges with getting through... they had to go through the passenger screening process several times,” Fortune said.

“This is really a learning exercise at this point, because it’s the first time that real passengers are seeing the self-screening system,” Fortune said. “We’re trying to build the next greatest thing and get it out there and spin the wheels on it.”

The system uses existing TSA security technology to screen bags and people. But the way people go through the checkpoint is a little more like self-checkout at grocery stores.

Here’s how it works: A video monitor gives step-by-step instructions on the screening process, and travelers can tap a help button for a live video chat with a TSA officer. There are also TSA officers at the checkpoint handling other responsibilities, such as checking IDs and doing secondary inspections of bags.

After putting bags through the X-ray machines, the traveler enters a passenger screening portal. Once they complete screening and are cleared to travel, automated exit doors open for them to proceed on their way.

New TSA screening equipment at Harry Reid International Airport is displayed, Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Ty Neal)

Credit: AP

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Credit: AP

It’s a self-guided process for travelers to “complete the screening at their own pace,” according to a statement from TSA Administration David Pekoske.

Passengers being screened are told where an item triggers an alarm for them to resolve the issue themselves, to reduce pat-downs and secondary screening, according to TSA.

The prototype is expected to be at the checkpoint at the Las Vegas airport for six months, with TSA collecting passenger feedback and data on the system’s performance and other variables, to understand how passengers and TSA officers “interact with the system.”

Then, the agency will weigh the feasibility and viability of the system, along with future design and development, and “explore opportunities to apply parts of the prototype to other airport security checkpoints,” according to Pekoske.

Using such a system could alter what work TSA officers do at the checkpoint, reducing the need to do simpler tasks so they can help in other places where they are needed, according to Fortune. “A smart system can potentially free up resources to help deal with an ever-growing number of travelers,” he said.

Vanderlande was one of three companies that won contracts for self-screening concepts. The other two are working on a pod-based self-screening system that is a bigger departure from the current process of passing through lanes, and will likely take years longer to develop.