LONDON -- A security camera that can peer discreetly through clothing from 80 feet away is being unveiled this week at a scientific exhibition near here.
The T5000 camera someday could help passengers zip through airport checkpoints around the world, according to its developers.
It also could be a boon for railroad stations and shopping centers eager to step up security.
Created by a British company called ThruVision, the camera relies on naturally occurring terahertz waves -- the electromagnetic spectrum between infrared and microwaves -- that are emitted by all people and things.
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The camera is designed to detect drugs, liquids, weapons and explosives hidden under a person's clothing without revealing the anatomical attributes of the person's body.
"The ability to see both metallic and nonmetallic items on people out to 25 meters is certainly a key capability that will enhance any comprehensive security system deployment," Clive Beattie, ThruVision's chief executive officer, said at the unveiling Wednesday.
He said ThruVision is entirely passive, with no irradiation of subjects that might give rise to health concerns.
The device can display images of concealed objects such as explosives under clothing even when the subject is walking.
"We can screen as people move and at a distance," said Jonathan James, ThruVision's director of product marketing. "This augments existing metal detector technology." He said an earlier version of the T5000 camera is in use at undisclosed U.S. military sites, although he would not elaborate.
James said the technology could speed up waiting time for travelers passing through airports.
Airports such as Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport, the world's busiest, have long been considering ways to ease their sometimes crowded security checkpoints. Ideas under recent discussion include the addition of more security lanes, including some lanes that fliers would pay to use.
But not all security experts are convinced that ThruVision's technology would make a big difference.
Michael Radu, an expert on terrorism at the Philadelphia-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the time now spent to screen a passenger is no more than about 20 seconds.
"The delays are a matter of organization of gates at the airport," he said. "If the new system could eliminate the need to take off shoes and to open handbags, it would improve matters. But if not, there would be little change in the sense of travelers' convenience."
James said the T5000 is designed to spot large objects, and not smaller objects that might be found in a shoe.
Meanwhile, privacy concerns also could hamper deployment of such a device.
Robert Ellis Smith, publisher of the Privacy Journal, based in Providence, R.I., said passengers should be worried that vendors, and not security specialists, seem to drive the direction of airport screening and that both parties rely too much on technology.