Here's a sobering piece on the GE Puffer by Martin Tibbits at Kangaekata. He quotes me as a “detractor” of the GE Puffer, and he couldn't be more right. The so-called Puffer (which should be renamed “Blaster” to dispell the cutesy lie that is its name) is beyond invasive and mysanthropic; it's a bad dream from the world of stupid product designs.
The good news is that it has a competitor called the Senitinal, made by Smiths, that is beautifully conceived and has none of the problems of GE's abomination (I compared the two machines here). I therefore expect that no one competently evaluating this technology will ever install a Puffer again – and GE, in light of how inferior its own version is, will take it off the market to avoid humiliating its design staff.
That being said, Martin's insights really caught me off guard.
Iâ€™m sure that by now many of you have experienced the â€œPufferâ€œâ€¦a new explosives detection device being tested at several major US airports.
The technology works like this:
The Puffer blows air on you collecting tiny tiny tiny particles of just about anything you have come in contact with. It then ionizes these particles and performs some complicated analysis. The upshot is that the Puffer can detect quantities of explosives as small as a picogram!
How small is a picogram? Well a picogram is 10 to the -12 grams. Essentially if you zoomed a BB to the size of a school bus, a picogram would be the size of a grain of salt in the bus.
As a technology, puffers are pretty cool, despite their detractors. As a downside they are generally pretty slow, taking 10-40 seconds per person to perform their magic. I would be surprised if they had throughput greater than 30 per hour, honestly.
But the speed isnâ€™t the only real problem. Were the FAA to rely on soley on puffers, here is exactly what could happen:
Al Qaida or any other terrorist group with feet on the ground in the US would be empowered to bring air traffic to a complete halt in the US, at will.
People would walk through the dustâ€¦and the puffers would give off nothing but false positives. The airports would have to revert to pat downs and other time intensive security measures.
The result? A reversion to limited or no protection against explosives in flight.
Am I giving something away here? I hope not. Letâ€™s not assume the terrorists are any less intelligent than we are.
Amazing. A chemical denial of service attack. Obvious in retrospect, like so many security flaws.