MINI Z

The First-Ever Handheld Scanner

  • Capabilities Used
  • Engineering
  • Industrial Design
  • Design Research

How do you create a totally new-to-the-world industrial product, while giving it the functionality and feel of a high-end consumer good? AS&E, in partnership with Altitude, created the MINI Z, the world’s first handheld Backscatter X-ray imaging system, which is easy and intuitive to use, while having the dependability and accuracy of an expert tool.

As the design development began, it was clear that the interaction with this device would have to be tailored to its specific function, and could not be derived from other products on the market.

-

 

Downsizing Technology While Increasing Volume and Precision

The MINI Z’s innovative design provides effective detection of contraband and explosives for public safety, customs and border enforcement, and security officials. It uses the same technology as in top-selling X-ray inspection systems housed in vehicles—yet has been miniaturized for handheld use. The compact device is used to scan objects in hard-to-reach areas, allowing for the effective screening of items, such as suspicious bags, walls, furniture, car interiors, even aircraft.

Until the MINI Z, AS&E had made parcel, personnel, and vehicle and cargo scanning equipment. When they approached us, they had worked to scale the technology down for handheld use, but needed an innovative design that would make it viable for market and could be manufactured at a high volume, while retaining the high level of precision required to function. In addition, there was no precedent for a portable device of this kind, so Altitude had to develop all ergonomics, use cases, and technical solutions from the ground up.

Tailoring the Design for Specific Interactions

There were multiple factors, along with strict safety requirements, that all had to be balanced in the design of the unit. As the use cases were developed, the need to have a highly maneuverable device was identified, and became a primary driver of the design. The need to capture images created some crossover in the realm of high-end video cameras, and the potential for use in rugged environments created requirements similar to that of a power tool. Some original assumptions were made that it would function similarly to other detection products on the market, which were ergonomically analogous to a power drill. As the design development began, it was clear that the interaction with this device would have to be tailored to its specific function, and could not be derived from other products on the market.

There were also significant engineering and manufacturing challenges in the development process from technology to product. Altitude engineered the product from the ground up, including designing a robust housing that could stand up to day-to-day heavy use in extreme environments, from both an impact and thermal perspective. The team worked to understand all the complexities of the technology and designed parts for volume manufacturing, determining the thermal requirements, tolerance, and the strength of a multi-functional handle.

The MINI Z system has already led to four seizures of illegal substances during customer trials—immediately demonstrating the effectiveness of the system—and AS&E has begun to ship systems around the world.Altitude