While queuing for baggage checks is one of the least appealing aspects of air travel, most people would agree that today’s security concerns make thorough checks a necessity. Southampton researchers have conducted studies that could make these checks faster, and more importantly, less prone to human error.
Airport security staff, called ‘screeners’, monitor X-ray images of luggage to search for weapons and explosive devices. Metals, used to make guns and knives, and the organic materials that make up explosives, display as two different colours on the X-ray. However, searching for multiple colours at the same time creates a challenge for the brain’s visual system.
The team from Southampton’s Centre for Visual Cognition, working with partners from the University of Massachusetts, used eye-tracking equipment to monitor the movement of the eye during a visual search. The findings showed that when looking for two colours, people spend a disproportionate amount of time looking at objects that are unlike either target, and therefore less time looking at objects that could be targets.
One implication of the findings is that searches might be quicker and more effective if baggage X-rays are scrutinised by two screeners, one tasked with finding metal items such as guns and knives, and another looking for explosives.
The latest research from the Centre, with colleagues at Durham University’s Visualization Laboratory, is building on this work by assessing the usefulness of three-dimensional images in training people to interpret X-ray images.