Future technology for emergency situations

Future technology for emergency situations
© Photo Fraunhofer IAF

The mobile sensor system developed by Fraunhofer IAF for the standoff detection of explosives is ready for field trials.

After an explosion occurred, arriving security forces have to secure the place of action immediately. It is of key importance, to determine whether there are any further explosive devices present. Then, the criminological investigation begins. For this purpose, Fraunhofer IAF has developed a sensor technology which supports and protects security forces during their operation: A laser-based technology allows fast and reliable detection of explosives from a safe distance. In a realistic field test in Sweden, the project team successfully demonstrated the capacity of the new system.

During a live-demonstration of the newly developed sensor technology, Fraunhofer IAF researchers and their project partners faced the challenge to support rescue teams with securing the place of action and in the subsequent criminological investigation. Therefore, a parking car and building facades were blown up through a controlled explosion in a realistic setting on the testing grounds of the Swedish FOI (Swedish Defence Research Agency) in Grindsjön in Sweden. After the scene was blocked off and mapped three-dimensionally by rescue teams, the laser-based sensor technologies were put into action: First, the operation site was investigated for further potential explosive devices. Afterwards, the infrared laser technology developed at Fraunhofer IAF succeeded in identifying residues of ammonium nitrate via point measurements on the detonated vehicle within a few minutes – from a distance of 20 meters.

Results of classical forensic swab samples analyzed in the laboratories of the project partners proved the reliability of the system: A quick, forensic examination of the crime scene after a terrorist attack is thus possible without having to access the hazardous grounds.

Quantum cascade laser for the contactless identification of hazardous substances

The live-demonstration was prompted by the completion of the research project HYPERION (Hyperspectral imaging IED and explosives reconnaissance system) which was funded by the European Union. Project partners and more than 40 guests gathered on the testing grounds of the FOI in Sweden to attend the demonstration. Twelve research institutes and organizations from all over Europe were working on the development of the sensor system under the coordination of the FOI for three years. The joint project received an EU-funding of 3.5 million euros as part of the 7th Framework Programme (FP7).

Fraunhofer IAF’s contribution consists of the development of an imaging, contactless stand-off detection system based on quantum cascade lasers. The broadband tunable quantum cascade lasers emit in wavelengths between 7.5 and 11 micrometers. In this spectral region, chemical substances show specific absorption lines. Using this characteristic »finger print«, the sensor system of Fraunhofer IAF is able to precisely identify the substances from a distance within a short period of time.

The laser-based spectroscopy can also increase security in various other application fields: Quantum cascade lasers can replace time-consuming laboratory examinations when applied in the event of industrial accidents, for checking suspicious luggage at airports, in-line analysis of drinking water, food controls, or production of pharmaceuticals.