Sniffing out terrorists

January 13, 2010

A new intelligent system has been developed to help identify terrorists carrying explosives. Sensitive electronic noses capture the smell of the explosives; the system processes the acquired data, correlates it with individuals' movements... and ultimately tracks down the suspects.

Literally hundreds of people are hurrying through the long airport corridor between Terminals A and B. Among them are two terrorists, who've hidden themselves in the crowd. They're carrying small containers of chemicals in their jacket pockets, individual components for an explosive. But there's something the criminals don't know. As well as being observed by security cameras, they're also being "sniffed out" by chemical noses hidden in the corridor wall.

The smell sensors sound the alarm when the terrorists walk past, alerting an airport security guard who notes the problem on his monitoring equipment. At this point in time, he can't tell precisely who is carrying - but he knows the will continue to "sniff out" and track down the suspects.

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Communication, and Ergonomics FKIE in Wachtberg have built a prototype security system to replicate just such a scenario. They've named it HAMLeT, which stands for Hazardous Material Localization and Person Tracking. "HAMLeT will alert to suspicious individuals," says head of department Dr. Wolfgang Koch from the FKIE. The system involves a network of highly-sensitive smell sensors which follow an explosive's trail. There are oscillating crystals on the sensor chips, and whenever the electronic noses capture chemical molecules, their oscillation frequency changes. The precise nature of the change is different for different substances.

A further component in the system - the sensor's data fusion function - traces the explosive's path and ferrets out the carrier. A second sensor network is needed to track the route the individual takes; for this, the researchers have used laser scanners. "HAMLeT's real achievement is its ability to collate all the data and convert it into a clear and accurate overall picture," says Koch. The sensor data fusion process employs complex algorithms which allow HAMLeT to build up a precise image of pedestrian flows and connect a particular smell with a specific individual.

In a trial involving the German Armed Forces, researchers at the FKIE proved the system's ability to track down five "terrorists" carrying hidden explosives. The scientists are now working to refine the prototype's algorithms in order to reduce the false alarm rate.

Explore further: New Technologies Improve Video Surveillance

Related Stories

New Technologies Improve Video Surveillance

December 14, 2006

Surveillance cameras are sprouting up in more and more places, forming an ever more powerful tool for solving crimes after they happen. But what about using them to prevent or stop criminal and terrorist acts? This requires ...

Researchers investigate tracking, sensors to assist Air Force

September 10, 2007

Two Louisiana Tech faculty members, Dr. Sumeet Dua, an assistant professor of computer science, and Dr. Rastko Selmic, an assistant professor of electrical engineering, are using their skills and technical knowledge to help ...

Sniffing out uses for the 'electronic nose'

March 10, 2008

Despite 25 years of research, development of an “electronic nose” even approaching the capabilities of the human sniffer remains a dream, chemists in Germany conclude in an overview on the topic. Their review of R&D on ...

Tell me by the way I walk

June 9, 2008

Biometrics is commonly associated retinal scans, iris recognition and DNA databases, but researchers in India are working on another form of biometrics that could allow law enforcement agencies and airport security to recognize ...

Evil-doers everywhere: Get a whiff of this

February 18, 2009

The food you eat, the drugs you take, your state of mind, and your gender -- all these make your sweat unique. Tel Aviv University chemists may turn this fact into a new crime-fighting tool that would make Sherlock Holmes ...

Recommended for you

Tipster talks about Google's Project Soli kit invites

August 31, 2015

Google has its eyes on a future of radar-based technology for hand gestures with wearables, and to a future where you can interact with wearable technology without adding physical controls such as buttons. Your fingers can ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.