How Silicon Valley would build the $47,000 TSA randomizer app

Several outlets have been reporting that the TSA paid USD$1.4 million for a randomizer app. The actual figure is more likely $47,000 (3.3% of the originally reported cost — a big difference). The purpose of the app is to sort passengers randomly into a right or left lane.

This is so that travelers can’t game the system to get put into a line of their choosing. It also makes life easier for the agent involved. Here’s what that looks like in action:

That’s certainly a lot of money for a simple app but compared to the list of the biggest software fails in history it’s not as bad as you might initially think.

Despite that (and whatever burdensome security requirements the TSA might have) let’s be clear: there are much cheaper and more cost efficient ways to build apps like these.

At Gigster we build apps fast using Silicon Valley developers. We decided to find out how long it would take them to build the same app.

It took one of our engineers 3:07  to build, including debugging (hat/tip to our engineer, Carter, for this):

Here’s what the final version looks (link removed) live:


If you do the math then so long as Carter’s hourly rate is less than $47,000*(60/3:07) = $904,812.84 then this method for building the app is not just faster but also cheaper as well. I’d like to reassure our investors at this point that we’re not paying developers effective hourly rates of close to $1 million.

Time To Over Deliver

So that’s just to match what the TSA already has. For this one we decided to go the extra mile so we decided to improve the UX. A simple arrow or hand is functional but not very interesting or engaging (it turns out that a lot of the UX in airports is ripe for improvement).

The TSA doesn’t have the best brand image right now and we thought a bit of fun might help. The job is always going to be serious but if prisons in Japan can have adorable mascots then perhaps the TSA can use a couple of images to make their randomizer more endearing and engaging to travelers.

So we decided to create a TSA Fun (link removed) version using pics of celebrities. Here’s what that looks like in action:


Who better to tell you to go “to the left” than Beyonce?




Michael Jackson



Cristiano Ronaldo


Harry Potter


Michael Jackson (again)


UX Matters

Traveling through airports is stressful. Why not improve the airport UX by adding a few delightful touches to the little things? The small details matter and can make a huge difference.

The TSA’s job will always be serious but a little bit of personality and humor can go a long way to relieving the tension on both sides and creating a delightful user experience.

If you want to build tech faster and more cost effectively then go to our home page and start a project with us today.