A slew of sensor technologies thought up in the wake of 9/11 are still in the labs, and their creators are scouted like promising minor leaguers. In recent years, GE Security alone has called up three players: InVision, VisioWave and Edwards Systems Technology.
"If I had one thing to recommend to my fellow EEs, it would be to keep developing novel sensors," said Steve Hill, Chief Technology Officer for the Homeland Protection division at GE Security (Bradenton, Fla.). "We are always looking for better, faster sensors that don't generate too many false alarms."
For instance, professor Bonner Denton at the University of Arizona has developed a capacitive transimpedance amplifier that he claims can increase the sensitivity of airport explosives detectors by a thousandfold, making it possible for handheld devices to "sniff the air" around travelers and their baggage without requiring screener intervention (search www.eetimes.com for article ID: 160401426).
Likewise, Purdue University professor R. Graham Cooks has developed a sensor that can detect tiny amounts of residue from explosives in five seconds by puffing a gas mixture of ions onto a suitcase as it passes by. The ionic charge ejects molecules from the surface of the suitcase and into the two-nostril "nose" of Cooks' puff-and-sniff mass spectrometer (search www.eetimes.com for article ID: 171203705).
For detecting an explosive without getting too close to it, M2 Technologies Inc. (Manhattan, Kan.) teamed with Kansas State University professor William Dunn to develop a technology that detects explosives from several meters away using gamma and neutron radiation sources (search www.eetimes.com for article ID: 170100747). Gamma rays and neutrons "backscatter" from molecules in a sample to create a distinctive radiation pattern whose signature can be detected and analyzed to determine a container's contents.
Similarly, University of Florida professor Loc Vu-Quoc, with funding from Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Missiles and Fire Control group (Orlando, Fla.), has developed a projectile with an electronic sensor that can be shot at a suspicious object from a paintball gun up to 65 feet away. The sensor sends back its analysis of the targeted object to soldiers using a 450-MHz wireless transmitter (search www.eetimes.com for article ID: 20900296).
EE professor Todd Hubing at the University of Missouri (Rolla) developed a device that can detect the signature of the electronic trigger for a remotely detonated bomb before it transmits its deadly signal (search www.eetimes.com for article ID: 49900390).
R. Colin Johnson