Gun-Shaped Laptop Battery

Seems like bad design:

My laptop bag has scared TSA security personnel at several airports recently, requiring manual bag inspections each time. And when it happened again this week I finally figured out what it is that was freaking them out when the bag went through the x-ray machine—it’s the spare laptop battery I always carry. This would never be an issue if the battery were inside the laptop, but the spare battery (depending on how it is laying in the back) can catch attention. But, TSA issues aside, look at the shape of the battery. You just have to wonder—what on earth was IBM thinking?

The answer, of course, is obvious: it never occured to them.

Posted on August 8, 2007 at 2:12 PM31 Comments


Bond August 8, 2007 2:59 PM

My Dell X300 has batteries like that. Maybe I’ll have to position it interestingly in my bag.

Slightly Placated August 8, 2007 3:25 PM

So TSA is actually detecting something that looks like a gun? This is progress..

David Dyer-Bennet August 8, 2007 3:31 PM

In what way does that battery look at all like a gun? Comments over there also mention “L-shaped” artifacts now being a problem, but that battery isn’t L-shaped.

I suspect this “slipped through” because nobody who looked at it thought it looked remotely like a gun.

John Davies August 8, 2007 3:39 PM

Obvious solution – ban all “L” shaped objects. The letter “J” is also under suspicion.

Eam August 8, 2007 3:50 PM

@David: Some of those sneaky terrorists have guns that can be disassembled into their component lowercase-Ls

Anonymous August 8, 2007 3:58 PM

I’d have to see it on x-ray. It could be there are cylindrical shapes that look like a barrel and slide, or density patterns that fool the pattern matching in the xray machine.

Frankly, the battery DOES look like the barrel and slide for an automatic pistol. Or the ammo clip for one.

Chris August 8, 2007 4:00 PM

Although a bit large, I could see how this might be mistaken for the slide from a broken-down pistol. A quick visual inspection would quickly eliminate this a weapon component, but by itself inside a bag with lots of other cables, coins, pens, etc.? I’d ask to look inside the bag if I saw that on the x-ray.

Assuming, of course, that this item looks the same on an xray as it does in the picture provided at the web page.

James August 8, 2007 4:29 PM

I can see where it would look like a gun when they’re doing the x-rays. It has the right basic shape.

Thankfully, having met Ben, I can imagine that his reaction is more one of amusement rather than frustration.

nzruss August 8, 2007 5:04 PM

If I was TSA, I’d be on the lookout for a terrorist with a gun in the shape of an IBM laptop battery which is actually IN the laptop.

Unix Ronin August 8, 2007 5:21 PM

More to the point, not so much “it never occurred to them”, as when it was designed, there was no REASON for them to make allowance in their design for complete raging paranoia.

TNT August 8, 2007 5:27 PM

This is ridiculous. That thing looks VERY remotely like a gun. So much that I’m pretty positive that I would never have even noticed the vague similarity if I didn’t read about it here.

“What was IBM thinking”? They were thinking like perfectly normal people whose thoughts are not ridiculously distorted by absurd paranoia.

HotCrossedBuns August 8, 2007 5:28 PM

I agree with David Dyer-Bennet – that doesn’t look like a gun (or any weapon, or in fact ANYTHING suspicious) at all to me.

OBrien August 8, 2007 5:28 PM

Bullshit. I’ve traveled several times across the country with an spare identical to this in my notebook bag without a second glance (and enough random crap in the same bag to seem ‘suspicious’.) I’ve probably even flown out of the same airport he uses (if he lives according to where Wikipedia says he lives) with the same spare battery without a problem.

Take a look at what a notebook battery actually looks like on an x-ray:
(that’s an square apple battery vs a rectangular IBM battery, but the cells show up the same.) Notice the battery cells? IBM actually refers to Ben’s specific type of battery as a ‘6-cell’ and would likely show up as three sets of 2 AA-lookalike batteries taped together, rather than a single or two long cylinders, like a gun. If anything, it’d look more like a bomb than a gun.

The linked blog is wild speculation with no confirmed information, or even other anecdotal evidence. I’d like to hear from other people who have had this problem.

As an aside, what were they thinking? Really? IBM failed to consider that their five+ year old design that looks vaguely like a gun if you squint your eyes and turn your head to the left? Why not complain that IBM also failed to realize that the Model M keyboard could be a lethal weapon if used as a bludgeon!

They should be more concerned about it spontaneously catching fire, if it’s one of the Sony-sourced models. 🙂

Cecil_T August 8, 2007 5:38 PM

“The answer, of course, is obvious: it never occured to them.” – nor should it have.

Preetam August 8, 2007 11:49 PM

The battery can be useful in checking the effectiveness of the baggage screening at the airports. 🙂

Olaf T. Hairy August 9, 2007 3:23 AM

My HP has a similar battery shape.

It doesn’t look very gun shaped to me. Possibly looks closer when seen via an X-ray.

vwm August 9, 2007 3:50 AM

Well, at German airports I am always asked to put my notebook and spare battery out of the bag and into an extra bin.

In return I don’t need to remove my shoes.

Colossal Squid August 9, 2007 7:15 AM

To paraphrase Twain:
“Idiocy is telling a man he cannot have an L-shaped laptop battery because a TSA goon cannot distinguish it from a firearm.”

Harry August 9, 2007 11:11 AM

Looks like a gun slide to me. Not an entire gun, mind you, just the top bit of an automatic hand gun, that slides back when the next round is loading.

And why should it occur to IBM?

This one seems simple to me. Now that the problem is known, take the battery from the case and put it next to the laptop when you run it through The Machine.

Eoghan August 9, 2007 11:41 AM

Perhaps it isn’t the shape but rather the density of the object… battery gel and some plastique would be about the same density to a scanner.

TS August 9, 2007 12:55 PM

Batteries appear as… batteries. Take a look at the link posted by Obrien about 16 down. Battery cells won’t be mistaken for a weapon. The shape of the battery pack won’t even show up on the xray.

So the agent sees a bundle of battery cells… what is it? Is it simply a battery pack, or is it connected to a timer and a pound of C4? That’s what they’re looking for, an IED, not a gun.

N_C August 10, 2007 3:48 PM

I bet it looks a hell of a lot like a glock on x-ray.

Some of you may remember the uproar in the early nineties about “plastic guns” that could supposedly slip through x-ray and metal detector machines. It was completely untrue, but it was a fear that certain politicians found easy to manipulate so the lie persisted.

In truth, glocks have metal parts such as the barrel and several spring assemblies that will touch off metal detectors. In addition, the polymers that glocks are made from are actually x-ray opaque.

Glocks also break down into component parts fairly easily. The top part of the frame, called the upper receiver or the slide, would look enough like that battery on an x-ray that a nervous x-ray technician would probably want a second look.

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