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Drones and airports typically don’t play well together. While the appeal of floating above a place like LAX and capturing the miracle of flight from a birds-eye-view certainly has an innate appeal, it’s simply dangerous to have multiple different kinds of manned and unmanned craft occupying the same airspace at the same time. Just ask Tom Cruise.
Though it seems obvious that you shouldn’t pilot your drone right over the flight path of a major commercial airliner, there are multiple incidents in which people do that very thing each and every year. (Hey, we’re a mischievous and unpredictable species.) In February of this year, in fact, a drone reportedly flew dangerously close to a passenger jet in the skies over East Los Angeles, coming within 700 feet of the plane in flight. In 2018, the FAA reported around 2,300 undocumented drone sightings around U.S. airports, and TSA claimed there were 90 visual drone sightings and 5,200 technical detections within three miles of LAX in the last year alone.
Hence the need for increasingly sophisticated and sensitive drone detection technology, including a new system that the TSA has started testing this month at LAX along with Miami International Airport. The new system will operate around the clock, and uses a variety of different mechanisms–including radio waves, electro-optical frequencies, radar, and acoustic and thermal imaging–to zero in on the location of drones and keep them from entering restricted airspace. Many drones are already equipped with GPS software that stops them from interfering with airport traffic, but many operators ignore these protocols. The data the TSA gathers in Los Angeles and Miami will help them to refine and improve the system before potentially installing it in other airports.
The new drone recognition system is one of a number of new technologies TSA has installed at LAX and other U.S. airports over the past year. A lull in pandemic travel meant thinner-than-usual airport crowds and gave agents a rare opportunity to grab Cinnabon with minimal wait times, plus test out a number of new protocols designed to reduce physical contact between individuals at airports. The end goal is added personal safety for both TSA staffers and the general public, while also making the entire security check-in system easier and more efficient.
This included upgrades to the Computed Tomography (CT) systems that use 3D imaging to scan passengers’ luggage at checkpoints. Upgraded machines allow agents to rotate the images from multiple angles, cutting down on the number of pages that will need to be physically opened and inspected by agents.
The agency has worked to improve its advanced imaging technology (AIT) as well,, which looks specifically for threatening items or weapons on the bodies of travelers. Though frequently referred to as “metal detectors,” these new AIT systems can also identify a number of non-metallic threats. Upgraded body scanners added new methodologies for scanning transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming passengers, to improve their experiences through the security line and ensure they’re not singled out for additional screening unnecessarily.
Credential authentication technology, or CAT systems, also got an upgrade in the last year. These scanners snap an individual photo of each traveler, then compares these images to the features on their government-issued IDs using facial recognition technology. The entire system is automated, and doesn’t require a traveler to interact one-on-one with a TSA agent at all. This is helpful not only from a COVID-era disease transmission perspective, but by automating these systems, TSA can hopefully limit agent bias, zeroing in on actual rather than perceived threats. Over time, at least theoretically, the CAT system could be expanded to include all identity verification steps in one, pulling in verification like driver’s licenses or passports directly from a traveler’s phone.
The new system was actually tested out for around 90 days at LAX back in the spring. The agency is still determining whether or not to deploy it nationwide. — Lon Harris
Here’s What Happened in LA’s Entertainment Tech World This Week 🍿
L.A. Tech Week wrapped up with panels on the future of food delivery, augmented reality, and an NFT auction.
Faraday Future announced its electric cars will premier in video games before they hit the streets.
HBO Max made some strange moves belying its franchise-centric strategy as it merged with WB Discovery.
Snap, Inc. was hit with a $35 million fine for collecting users’ biometric data.
The Inflation Reduction Act's incentives to encourage foreign manufacturers to set up shop in North America appear to be working.
A lawsuit against e-bike manufacturer Rad Power Bikes filed in L.A. has raised safety concerns in the industry.
Meet the Bird ‘fleet managers’ who recharge e-scooters in Downtown Los Angeles.
Tranzito-Vector may soon be renovating and upgrading L.A.'s bus shelters.
California passed a law banning the sale of gas-powered vehicles by 2035.
This week was big for entertainment tech hires in SoCal.
Venture Capital 💰
CurbWaste raised $6 million to help waste haulers manage their routes and operations.
At least six venture capital firms have quietly expanded in L.A. in the past few months – here’s why.
See the full list of SoCal startup fundraising for the week in our "Raises" round up.
🎧 Listen Up
L.A. Venture podcast: PsyMed Ventures co-founder Greg Kubin talks about the benefits in investing in psychedelics.
Office Hours podcast: ERI’s John Shegerian on how he decided never again to found a business "that just makes money."
SAVRpak's moisture-absorbing pads aim to change the food industry by dramatically extending foods' shelf life.
L.A.-based digital media firm Ranker added its name to a Mid-Wilshire high rise.
NASA will soon launch its ‘Orion' capsule to the moon – kicking off a new era in space exploration.
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