Why dogs’ noses out-sniff the most advanced bomb detectors

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In 2010, after spending six years and $19 billion on research to develop better bomb detecting technology, Pentagon officials admitted that dogs’ noses were still superior to their most sophisticated technology. Now scientists say the reason for this might lie simply in the way they sniff.

In her book Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, an assistant of psychology at Barnard College, offers an analogy to show just how powerful a dog’s sense of smell is: while we might be able to tell if a teaspoon of sugar has been added to our coffee, place the same amount in a million gallons of water (roughly the equivalent of two Olympic-sized pools) and a dog would most likely be able to detect it.

This ability to single out and pick up even the faintest of odors is what makes dogs invaluable as bomb detectors. They can detect trace explosives in crowded settings such as airports and public transit areas, as well as odorless chemicals like TNT.

However training pooches to be effective bomb detectors is expensive and time-intensive. While all dogs have a superior sense of smell, not every breed is trainable. Hence the on-going quest to develop an e-nose that can equip bomb detectors with the canal physiology of dogs.

In the latest development in this arena, researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory and the US Food and Drug Administration have found that the way a dog sniffs could shed light on how to improve trace detection capabilities.

While we don’t differentiate between breathing and smelling, a dog, with its far more complex nasal system, treats them as two separate functions. According to Matt Staymates, a mechanical engineer at NIST, apart from having a complex olfactory system, the key to what makes dogs so good at sniffing out bombs is, well, in its sniff. This is a two part-process and key to this is what happens when it exhales.

Breathing and smelling are treated as two separate functions in a dog’s nose. When it inhales, the air is channeled into two different paths and when it exhales, the air exits through the sides of its nose so that the exiting air doesn’t interfere with its ability to smell. As counterintuitive as it might sound, when it exhales, the outgoing air jets “entrain—or draw in—vapor-laden air toward the nostrils. During inhalation, the entrained air is pulled into each nostril.”

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Using a 3D model of a Labrador retriever’s (one of the most commonly used breeds in bomb detection) nose to mimic how dogs sniff, and together with the help of schlieren imaging – a technique used for imaging the flow of air around objects – and high-speed video, Staymates and his team were able to confirm the above conjecture.

In their first set of experiments, they found that compared with trace-detection devices that rely on continuous suction, the artificial dog nose was four times better 10 cm (3.9 inches) away from the vapor source and 18 times better at a stand-off distance of 20 cm (7.9 inches).

When they integrated it with a commercially available vapor detector, the switch, which enabled it to sniff like a dog rather than inhale in its standard 10-second intervals, improved its ability to detect odors by a factor of 16 at a stand-off distance of 4 cm (1.6 inches).

This research team is not the first to study how the canine sniffing abilities can be used to develop a better bomb detector. In 1997, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched the Dog’s Nose program for this purpose. One of the technologies to emerge from it was a chemical explosives detector called Fido, which was modelled after the canine nasal physiology.

However while there have been various attempts to develop a canine e-nose over the years, the results, while promising, have not yet resulted in a breakthrough for the industry. Reliability as well as the ability to detect things at a distance remain a challenge and while this latest study confirms yet again the dog’s remarkable olfactory prowess, it is “just a piece of the puzzle,” as Staymates notes. “There’s lots more to be learned and to emulate as we work to improve the sensitivity, accuracy and speed of trace-detection technology.” Source: National Institute of Standards and Technology NIST 

Portable multi-purpose airport scanner

Flatscan portable scanner

Flatscan 27 portable scanner

Mondial Defence Systems provide the full range of CBRNe (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive) solutions to government, military and civil agencies.

The FlatScan 27 is a highly innovative flat portable battery-powered X-ray photodiodes system that has been specifically designed for high-speed and high-resolution inspection tasks. It incorporates a state-of-the-art 2D (two-dimensional) self-contained robust scanning detector, a laptop computer and a CP120B or CP160B portable constant potential X-ray generator to deliver real-time image processing. FlatScan 27 was developed in cooperation with specialised EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) teams and comprises various unique features, specifically to meet any emergency situation. The technology will predominantly be of interest for applications used by the military, police, prisons and customs.

The FlatScan 27 comprises a large number of unique technological features and delivers a versatile and highly thin detector (thickness of just 55mm). This detector means that large objects with dimensions up to as much as 535 x 412mm can be scanned in just one attempt, even in situations where they might be located in very inaccessible places (e.g. close to a wall).

Flatscan 27 providing material discrimination and conventional scanning capability

Flatscan 27 providing material discrimination and conventional scanning capability

Furthermore, the FlatScan 27 delivers an excellent image quality with a high penetration capability (up to 34mm of steel at 160kV, 0.5mA). This is possible as a result of its sensitivity, the 800 microns resolution and the ability it offers for slowing down the speed of the scanning detector.

The FlatScan technology can be extended through a variety of options including materials separation. This involves the colour coding of a package to indicate whether the components inside are organic or inorganic in nature. This option delivers extra insight to the operator when making an informed judgment relating to the contents of suspect objects or packages.

The detector is equipped with a battery that lasts for two hours, while the two X-ray source cells each enable the development of up to 200 images. It should be noted that in cases of long-lasting laboratory applications, both items can be powered by optional mains power supplies.

For quick on site intervention, the FlatScan 27 detector can be easily transported in a backpack, while all accessories are stored in a carrying case. For more information visit – http://www.mondial-defence.com

 

Dog-inspired scent detector sniffs out explosives and narcotics

A team of UCSB researchers have mimicked the anatomy of a dog’s nose to build a highly effective scent detector that could be used to sniff out explosives and narcotics (University of California)

Combining nanotechnology and microfluidics, researchers at UC Santa Barbara have created a high-performance detector that draws inspiration from the anatomy of a dog’s nose to accurately identify substances – including explosives and narcotics – from very small concentrations of airborne molecules.

Able to detect smells ten thousand times as faint as humans can, a dog’s nose is an invaluable asset to police forces around the globe. So, when UCSB researchers set out to build an effective electronic nose that could assist homeland security, they already knew where they could find the perfect design.

By modeling the way in which a dog’s nose efficiently absorbs and then concentrates airborne molecules, the researchers were able to produce a device with remarkable performance, capable of capturing and identifying molecules in concentrations as low as one part per billion – as well, or better, than their furry counterparts.

Within the paperclip-sized chip, a network of microscale channels twenty times thinner than a human hair picks up the molecules and increases their concentration by a factor of up to a million. The molecules then interact with nanoparticles that amplify their spectral signature, and a miniature spectrometer detects their composition. The results from this analysis are then compared to a comprehensive database to find the closest match, identifying the molecule with a high degree of accuracy.

Even though it was first intended for use in explosives detection (the design will soon be commercialized for homeland security applications) this technology has much more far-reaching applications. Because it can be used to identify a very wide variety of molecules, the researchers say it could be easily adapted to detect narcotic substances, food that has spoiled, or even as a diagnostic tool that can identify disease, including certain forms of cancer. Source: http://www.gizmag.com.