04.03.2019 change 04.03.2019

Sowa will spot the smuggler

Photo: Fotolia Photo: Fotolia

No one will be able to hide a murder weapon, bomb, smuggled drugs and cigarettes, valuables or endangered species products in the car anymore. The Polish system "Sowa" (Owl) can scan the entire car millimetre by millimetre - not only at a border crossing, but also at a parking lot, entrance gate or control station.

Mobile vehicle scanning system "Sowa" was developed at the National Centre for Nuclear Research. It was designed by a team of scientists, engineers and constructors from Particle Acceleration Physics and Technology Division. The presentation of a ready-to-manufacture prototype took place in February in the Science and Technology Park Świerk.

The first natural recipients of the solution will be representatives of customs services. Sowa could also support the work of police and road transport inspectors. The system allows to easily detect smuggling, planned crime or prevent a terrorist attack.


The innovative system is housed in a shipping container that can be transported to any place. The heart, or rather the eye of "Sowa" is an X-ray lamp located on the roof of the container. It is the source of X-rays. The nervous system is located in the floor and walls of the container packed with detectors. They provide a clear image of the scanned car`s interior. Each object is scanned with the smallest details. The scan takes about 2 minutes, and the obtained image can be analysed immediately. An important advantage of the system is very precise imagining of the chassis and side walls of the scanned vehicle.

One of the creators of the system Dr. Sławomir Wronka emphasized during the presentation that "Sowa" allows to control cars quickly and without contact, without having to dismantle or pry and look under the car body. Linear U-shaped detector allows to scan the sides of the car, check the contents of doors, wheels and wheel arches. The software allows to zoom in and enhance selected details of the scan with digital filters.

Engineers guarantee that thanks to the high accuracy of scanning, even small, hidden objects and damage can be easily spotted. "A trained inspector is able to see even single cigarettes in a smuggled cargo, hidden dangerous equipment or illegal technical modifications of the car" - assured Dr. Wronka.


The "Owl" does not have its own drive, but it can be transported easily and quickly. The mobile system will allow to conduct checks anywhere, not only at border crossings. The container allows to scan passenger cars and small delivery vans in parking lots, at entrance gates to protected areas or in technical stations.

Michał Matusiak, a member of the team that created "Sowa", noted that the X-ray scan must take place without the participation of the driver. Although the radiation dose is over 100 times smaller than during medical tomography, the law prohibits exposure of people to X-rays without clear indication from a physician.

The controlled car is placed on a platform on rollers. After starting the system, a cable will start to move the car forward automatically, without exposing the driver. During that time, radiation beam emitted from above will scan the vehicle line by line. After a few minutes, the operator will receive a detailed radiographic image of the vehicle and its contents with an accuracy of a fraction of a millimetre.

The designers also ensured the safety of the operator and observers. The container walls protect the people outside, which makes the device completely safe for operators and possible bystanders. It does not require a safety zone. The scanner can be used in public places. This is important because the system was designed to be easily transported to a selected border crossing, highway parking or guarded area entrance.

PAP - Science in Poland

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