Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Specific challenge:

Smugglers try to evade controls at borders by using their bodies as the conduit to conceal prohibited or restricted goods. These items may be narcotics, explosives, currency and weapons and could also be ampoules containing chemical and biological threats. All these items could remain undetected by conventional technologies.

There is a need to develop body-scan technology able to discern those commodities sought by Customs from benign materials carried by travellers. The device/system should have the capability to automatically identify the chemical composition of the main threat commodities. Such systems are expected to improve efficiency of inspection of suspected individuals, improve security at the border and act as a deterrent to other potential smugglers.


There are two different scenarios that technology is required for. Although ideally a system would have a capability to be deployed to cover both operational situations, it is accepted that at this stage it may not be possible, due to the types of core technology used, so within this topic the requirements are shown separately to clarify the challenge, and so assist development in proposals which may be for either a sub category or for a combined solution.

1) Internally concealed commodities

Packages may be ingested, or inserted into body orifices. Ingested packages may be formed of compressed powder, or even liquid and may weight from a few hundred grams up to over a kilo. Non-ingested items may be several hundred grams. Drugs, used in the example, are by nature organic, so it is difficult to distinguish them visually from other organic or food waste in the digestive system of the human body. Transmission x-ray is a useful tool, but it is an imaging technology which requires interpretation. There is a potential for error and packages may be missed.

There is a requirement to develop a body-scanner capable of identifying and alerting an operator to specific threats (such as narcotics /explosives etc.) concealed inside the body. If the technology in the proposal were to utilise ionising radiation, it would have to comply with European limits of dose and comply with any justification process for the use of radiation, , which might be in force with the countries of intended operation. It should also be noted that not all Member States and Associated Countries permit use of ionising radiation for non-medical purposes

2) Externally concealed commodities.

Packages such as drugs can be concealed beneath clothing and even be moulded to map the body contours, which can be compensated for by the wearing or larger clothing. A human can conceal up to 5 kilos in this manner, which can be remain undetected. Organic materials which have been on the body for a significant duration can become opaque to some technologies, that operate in the thermal-sensitive domain, if they are close to the body temperature. The ideal novel solutions must be able to distinguish those materials of Customs or Police/Security interest from harmless items and alert the operator. This solution would typically be applied to a “non-divest” situation. It must be able to work in real-time, not to disrupt passenger flow or movement of a crowd. Preferably the solution should be able to deal with more than one person within the field of view, or at least other people in the frame should not interfere with the performance of the primary target. Performance will have to be validated in a realistic scenario. Proposals dealing with the concurrent screening of bags and other carried possessions would be of interest.

The technology should pose no risk to particular groups, or those with health issues (children, pregnant woman, pacemakers). The privacy of individuals must be respected.

The Commission considers that proposals requesting a contribution from the EU of between €2m and €5m would allow this specific challenge to be addressed appropriately. Nonetheless, this does not preclude submission and selection of proposals requesting other amounts.

In line with the EU's strategy for international cooperation in research and innovation[1] international cooperation is encouraged, and in particular with international research partners involved in ongoing discussions and workshops, and US homeland security research entities. Funding for third countries is however still subject to the  evaluations.

Expected impact:

The technology to be developed under (1) and (2) would primarily be operated by Customs/Border control staff but may well have wider application for other security and law enforcement authorities. It is expected:

- to exceed the capability of current technologies being used by Customs administrations in some Member States and Assosciated Countries;

- to significantly improve security at the border;

- to constitute an effective tool against organised crime;

- to lead to increased crime prosecution capabilities;

- to lead to increased privacy and data protection.

The impact of the research should be benchmarked in terms of future deployment, as proportionate to the risks being assessed, and taking into account realistically the expected improvements in performance, functional needs, conditions of use, future maintenance costs, and impact on operating procedures, including training requirements for new skills.

The outcome of the proposal is expected to lead to development up to Technology Readiness Level (TRL) 5; please see part G of the General Annexes.

Type of action: Research & Innovation Actions


[1] COM(2012)497

Record Number: 665119 / Last updated on: 2015-03-25