An Ex-Cop Talks With Xconomy About Using X-Rays to Scan Cars

When I met Steven W. Smith last week, the founder of Spectrum San Diego made a casual comment that might help explain why he’s focused his company on developing advanced security imaging systems.

Smith was explaining the technical advantages of Spectrum’s mainstay product—an ultra-high resolution video surveillance system—when he said: “Before I went to graduate school, I was a police officer for five years. And you always knew something had happened—somebody got beat up, for example. But the problem was figuring what exactly happened, and how, and who did it.”

Smith is an expert in digital signal processing and in using ultra-low level X-ray imaging to develop new inspection technologies. He has invented machines for inspecting canned goods and printed circuit boards. Yet lately he has been looking through law enforcement eyes at how such technologies can be used to help the police and military. Later this month, for example, Spectrum plans to unveil Smith’s most-ambitious project—an ultra-low dose X-ray machine capable of imaging explosives, contraband, and stowaways hidden inside cars and light trucks.

Steven W. Smith

Steven W. Smith

Of course, the other aspect of Smith’s story I found amazing is that while he was working as a uniformed police officer in Salt Lake City, UT, he also was getting his B.S. in physics at the University of Utah. He later got a Ph.D. in electrical engineering at the U of U before he began working to develop X-ray systems for such medical applications as detecting blocked arteries in the heart and calcium loss in bones.

Smith told me that as the director of research at San Diego-based IRT Corp. in the 1990s, he invented the Secure 1000, a machine that uses ultra-low radiation X-rays to conduct full-body scans that identify hidden weapons, explosives, and drugs at airports and checkpoints.

Smith founded Spectrum in 1998, after IRT was acquired by a subsidiary of OSI Systems, a diversified security technology company in Hawthorne, CA. In the beginning, Smith said he worked under contract to develop technology for other customers. But Smith said he changed his business model about five years ago to focus on developing his own proprietary technology. He’s raised about $5 million to fund the reincarnated company from a combination … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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