Airport Scanner app may train TSA agents

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

security scanner
Oh no, a weapon!

During the holidays, stampedes of people populate airport terminals and fill up security check-in lanes. Each of those busy travelers carries around tons of luggage, jam-packed with all sorts of personal items that need to be scanned for possibly dangerous ones. According to Duke University, spotting the bad kind of gear is not as easy as it sounds, judging by the Airport Scanner game application!

In the app, people are supposed to watch luggage go through an x-ray machine and identify potentially harmful items, much like a real airport security station. The researchers from Duke University analyzed data from this Airport Scanner to determine how effective people were at picking out the bad among the good.

In just the first month of the study, over 1.2 billion items were scanned in 150 million luggage bags. According to the results, players were more likely to find items if they appeared more frequently, such as illegal drugs. However, when it came to hunting down “ultra-rare” items, like weapons, players were much less likely to spot them. “We’re seeing that people are really bad at finding items that are not likely to appear,” said Stephen Mitroff, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke. Well, those are regular people playing an app game on their phone, so how do their results compare to trained airport security?

A separate study showed that agents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) take their time when it comes to scanning baggage. “What we found was that the TSA officers were more accurate in finding the target than the members of the Duke community,” said Mitroff. “They also took more time, so it’s more of a methodical search, which led to better performance.” The agents were also more likely to spend the same amount of time on all the bags, which only served to increase their accuracy.

Now, the Duke research team is coming up with cool new ideas for the Airport Scanner to improve scanning accuracy. Until then, if you find yourself stuck in an airplane terminal behind a long line of people, you might want to be grateful that it’s crawling along at a snail’s pace. That just means the airport security is doing a very thorough job.

Images courtesy of Airport Scanner on Vimeo.