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Spotting weapons in baggage x-rays and preventing traffic jams; cutting-edge Southampton research to be highlighted at a prestigious national exhibition

Published: 5 July 2011

Two international teams from the University of Southampton have been selected to present their research at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which opens its doors today (5 July 2011).

Efficient airport security

Dr Tamaryn Menneer and colleagues are conducting research about efficiency in security baggage checks. Their findings could be used to reduce the amount of time passengers spend queuing through security control.

“Standing in the queue at airport security waiting to have our belongings scanned is a familiar experience for many people. I think visitors to the exhibition will find it interesting to stop and think about what X-ray screeners are actually seeing and how the human brain makes sense of it,” comments Dr Menneer.

Airport security staff, or ‘screeners,’ monitor X-ray images of baggage to search for multiple types of weapons: guns, knives and explosives. The materials (metals and explosives) show up as different colours, but searching for these different colours at the same time creates a potential challenge for the brain’s visual system.

By monitoring eye movements, the research team from the University of Southampton’s Centre for Visual Cognition and the University of Massachusetts, has shown that searching for two different colours simultaneously is more difficult than looking for a single specific colour. One implication of the findings is that searches might be quicker by having two screeners, each tasked with spotting one type of weapon.

Future research from the Centre for Visual Cognition and Durham University’s Visualization Laboratory will assess the usefulness of 3D images in training participants to interpret X-ray images.

21st century traffic control – the invisible referees

Have you ever wondered if there is anything that can be done to reduce traffic jams? Believe it or not this is a question occupying some of the brightest minds in the UK.

At the University of Southampton, researchers develop mathematical models to predict how traffic jams build up, including the mysterious motorway gridlock that appears for no reason.

In future these models will be used to program traffic control office computers, which, for example, adapt traffic light timings in order to smooth the traffic flow.

Led by Professor Eddie Wilson, from the University’s Transportation Research Group, the team employs cutting edge sensing, computing and communications technology in order to monitor and improve traffic flow.

Professor Wilson explains: “When you drive to work, little do you know that there are teams of people working behind the scenes to ensure that your journey runs as smoothly as possible. Researchers in Southampton are conducting extensive work to try and reduce congestion, which causes frustration for drivers and impacts upon the economy and the environment.

“By using mathematical models and computer simulation to identify and solve problems, we can help our road networks run more efficiently. ”

Both these research projects will be exhibiting interactive displays at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition in London between 5 -10 July 2011. Entry is free: for more information visit: http://royalsociety.org/summer-science/2011

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