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Body scanners go to the mall

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

Airport body scanning technology has been adapted to help shoppers quickly find better fitting clothes. The device is based on technology initially designed to protect air travelers.

The wide deployment of millimeter wave full-body scanners at airports around the U.S. caused a kerfuffle largely because they generate grainy photos of travelers' naked bodies. Will a makeover of the technology that promises to help put clothes on your body get a different reception?

If preliminary results from a beta test of the technology are a guide, the answer is yes.


"The feedback has been phenomenal from customers as to the helpfulness of the service to them," Elizabeth Thomas, a marketing executive with Unique Solutions Limited, told me today.

The company licensed the body-scanning technology from Batelle, a research organization that manages the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory where the technology was first developed, and deployed the first "mybestfit" kiosk at the King of Prussia Mall in Pennsylvania.

The millimeter wave technology uses radio waves to penetrate clothing and bounce signals off the body that get transferred to a computer where the data generates useful information.

At airports, the data is used to make a somewhat naked-body image that helps security personnel identify objects such as ceramic knives and other non-metallic weapons. At the mall, "there's no image involved whatsoever," Thomas said.

Rather, a computer software program uses the signals to generate measurement data from all over your body: arm and leg length, waist and hip size, weight, etc., and then matches that data up with fitting fashions available at the mall.

The shopping potential of the technology was demonstrated to reporters at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in 2007. The deployment at the Pennsylvania mall is the beginning of what Unique Solutions Limited hopes will be a trend that allows us all to be a bit more smartly dressed for stress.

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John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by hitting the "like" button on the Cosmic Log Facebook page or following msnbc.com's science editor, Alan Boyle, on Twitter (@b0yle).