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Laser Prototype Improves Bomb Detection

samzenpus posted about a year and a half ago | from the no-more-boom dept.

Australia 59

angry tapir writes "Scientists at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia have developed a prototype laser device capable of detecting tiny traces of explosive vapor, an invention that has the potential to put bomb sniffer dogs out of a job. The prototype – a pulsed, quantum laser-based, cavity ring-down spectrometer – is being tested at the US government's Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico."

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59 comments

I need glasses... (4, Funny)

Hagaric (2591241) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244641)

I clicked on this thinking it said "Laser Prototype Improves Bomb Detonation" and am disappointed..

Re:I need glasses... (1)

kc67 (2789711) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244695)

The ability to detect tiny traces of explosive vapor should not be disappointing. It has the potential to save a lot of lives.

Re:I need glasses... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42244749)

Yeah, now legitimate, law-abiding gun owners can be arrested and labeled as terrorists for attempting to board an airplane after going to the gun range several days earlier.

Re:I need glasses... (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244789)

Why don't they make investment into areas that would result in well-being and abundances - eliminating the threat of anyone resorting to use of explosives?

Could it be, that there are powerful, elite interests that wish us to be frightened and fighting?

Re:I need glasses... (2)

Obfuscant (592200) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245429)

Why don't they make investment into areas that would result in well-being and abundances - eliminating the threat of anyone resorting to use of explosives?

Because well-being and abundances have nothing to do with people who want to use explosives to blow things up? I.e., you won't eliminate the threat.

Re:I need glasses... (0)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245625)

âoeSnooki Gives Kate Middleton Advice on Being a New Parent.â

Re:I need glasses... (1)

c0lo (1497653) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245943)

Why don't they make investment into areas that would result in well-being and abundances?

Paupers pay less, but still pay; the risk with well-being and abundance...where's the need to want something bad enough if you have the lot of the rest? Maybe... God forbids... one reaches the conclusion they can do without?

(although... looking at Apple fans, I would say there are slim chances for this to happen)

Re:I need glasses... (-1, Troll)

kc67 (2789711) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244797)

What you've just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

Re:I need glasses... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42245473)

As someone who has had a backpack swabbed for explosives for this exact reason, sit down and shut up.

Re:I need glasses... (2)

hamburger lady (218108) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245633)

oh noes! your backpack was swabbed? the humanity!

Re:I need glasses... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42244799)

Well... they'll have to get used to body cavity searches on regular basis then. Together with anyone who likes fireworks, even if just watching them on the 4th of July. Hey, maybe this will wake somebody up!

Re:I need glasses... (2)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244825)

Wooden matches.

I still use them to light-up the old meerschaum.

"Up against the wall, pipe-smoker!"

Re:I need glasses... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42244969)

Maybe they should take a shower and wash their clothes before they travel.

Re:I need glasses... (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245155)

I want to know what gun range you go to gets plastique residues all over you...

Re:I need glasses... (1)

mikael (484) | about a year and a half ago | (#42246077)

Or if you live next to a quarry - my laptop once tested positive for explosive residue after I had left the window open and a cloud of dust had blown over our house.

Re:I need glasses... (2)

BlueStrat (756137) | about a year and a half ago | (#42246751)

Yeah, now legitimate, law-abiding gun owners can be arrested and labeled as terrorists for attempting to board an airplane after going to the gun range several days earlier.

Not just gun owners.

Guitar players, too.

Many of the most popular guitar picks, like the Fender Heavy picks I use, are celluloid. Which when used wear down, producing nitrocellulose dust.

That's nitrocellulose. Also known as gun-cotton which, when soaked with nitroglycerin and formed into sticks, makes dynamite.

Just try putting a flame to a celluloid pick sometime. Be prepared with a large ashtray or something fireproof to drop it into immediately, as it will flare into flame quite energetically with a small roar.

One could theoretically take a bag of picks into the aircrafts' lavatory, use an emery-board, fingernail file, or something similar to grind/abrade the picks into a rough powder, place it into an improvised small container, and have yourself an improvised explosive device.

And with that, I'm probably on yet another government list.

Strat

Re:I need glasses... (2)

davydagger (2566757) | about a year and a half ago | (#42246879)

you'd think, but apparently it doesn't work like that.

GSR is apparently different than bombs resisude wise. I did a shooting course once so intense I was sneezing GSR from my boogers for weeks. (shot 10,000 rounds in a week, various guns), immediately after I went home via airplane, and the dogs walked right past me.

people who work in demolition, do get stopped regularlly.

Re:I need glasses... (1)

kiriath (2670145) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244865)

But think of how many dogs will be out of the job in this country.

How many dogs have to loose their job before we stop trying to replace everything with robots?

Re:I need glasses... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42254791)

Laser-based cavity searches?! It burns it burns ... and the goggles offer no protection at all!

But why Los Alamos? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42244661)

But why Los Alamos? ...

ohhh...

I wonder... (1)

jammer170 (895458) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244713)

How many people will set this off because they inadvertently picked up trace elements of an explosive vapor - will car exhaust fumes set this off? In what context do we really care about the existence of parts per billion amounts of explosive vapors? This might be an impressive technical achievement, but the commercial uses of this seem like a solution in search of a problem.

Re:I wonder... (1)

rally2xs (1093023) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244763)

The context is... IED detection. Sweeping a road for IEDs could be more successful and that would be a good thing if AQ can pull itself back together after we leave Afghanistan and the middle east. They will be sending people here to put IED's on the road that you take to work. Not hard, just park a car full of explosives with a detector that will set it off when there are 3 or more cars within 50 feet. That'd be you, in traffic. But if the cops have such a detector, they can shut down the road, and call EOD.

Context != IED detection (1)

Alwin Henseler (640539) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244941)

Ehm... in Australia? If you read the article, it talks of 2 applications, I quote:

  • "detect explosive residue at crime scenes"
  • "replace intrusive airport security checks such as pat downs and full body scans and bomb sniffer dogs"

Not saying this wouldn't be interesting for the US military, but that was clearly not the target of this research.

Re:Context != IED detection (1)

rally2xs (1093023) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244999)

Lotsa stuff gets used for things that it wasn't invented for, such as dynamite... I understand Alfred Nobel was a bit upset at the not-so-good applications his invention had been put to.

Re:Context != IED detection (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42249732)

Except for the fact that he was also an arms dealer...

Re:I wonder... (1)

jammer170 (895458) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245129)

That doesn't fit with the description at all. The device that was developed sounds like something that is fixed in place - not something that will lugged around with the military. Even if it could, a car filled with explosives is not exactly something we need to analyze at a parts-per-billion level. This device is used to detect something trying to be hidden, but the false positive rate sounds like it is going to be way too high to be of any use.

Re:I wonder... (1)

Entropius (188861) | about a year and a half ago | (#42247835)

So you mean that someone can plant a bag of fertilizer somewhere by a road and waste vast amounts of the US military's time searching for the bomb?

Sounds like a great way to bleed us dry!

Re:I wonder... (1)

rally2xs (1093023) | about a year and a half ago | (#42248823)

You'd rather NOT know that the IED or the fertilizer is there????

Re:I wonder... (1)

sosume (680416) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244823)

Do you really believe this will be used against explosives? This is a wet dream for the DEA. Buy a bunch and callibrate each to a specific illegal drug. Install in a truck, visit all the music festivals, and the economic crisis is over.

Re:I wonder... (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245049)

Install in a truck, visit all the music festivals, and the economic crisis is over.

Methinks thou hast put a bit much faith in the fiscal acuity of the common homo hackysackius, i.e. your average music fest goer.

Re:I wonder... (1)

Dr Damage I (692789) | about a year and a half ago | (#42246167)

They'll just seize every car that tests positive to drug residue under civil forfeiture and sell the cars. Easy money.

Re:I wonder... (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#42246795)

They'll just seize every car that tests positive to drug residue under civil forfeiture and sell the cars. Easy money.

I was going to make a snarky remark about how you seem to be under the impression that hippies actually own cars with more than scrap value, which leads me to assume you don't know any actual hippies.

Then I got to thinking about the types of people I remember seeing at the music festivals I used to go to - in addition to the hippies, you also get a large number of lawyers' kids and trust-fund babies (i.e., the 'idle rich), who have nothing better to do than spend mommy and daddy's money on dope.

Of course, according to the mass media, taxing the rich doesn't help the economy at all, so if you buy into such inane philosophies...

Re:I wonder... (1)

sosume (680416) | about a year and a half ago | (#42247103)

No, no, just throw them all in jail. It will free up a lot of jobs as well as creating a huge boost for the penal industry.

Re:I wonder... (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year and a half ago | (#42250943)

No, no, just throw them all in jail. It will free up a lot of jobs as well as creating a huge boost for the penal industry.

C'mon now, you know better than that - since when do hippies have jobs?

Anything that sensitive could cause problems (4, Interesting)

gstoddart (321705) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244723)

As with anything like this, the more sensitive you make it, the more you might have to deal with false positives.

I can only imagine someone going around bumping into people at the airport making sure they all smell like something which will trigger something like this.

It wouldn't be anything more disruptive than suddenly loads of people in the airport get checked for bombs, but I bet you could terribly mess up an airport if you suddenly had a handful of people testing positive.

Of course, to be going around doing this you'd need to smell of bomb residue and probably be seen on surveillance cameras doing it. But for all I know some common household chemicals could cause this now.

Re:Anything that sensitive could cause problems (5, Interesting)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244861)

Of course, to be going around doing this you'd need to smell of bomb residue and probably be seen on surveillance cameras doing it.

That doesn't matter. What matters is that you can deposit a chemical on a large number of others who have a high probability of going quickly to an airport security check. You never need to go near the sensors yourself.

One easy exploit is to rig a aerosol dispersal into a car's exhaust, then drive through a departures drop-off area a few times. Alternatively, contaminate the air around a rental car return. If the airport is one of those with significant public areas outside the secure area, a purse with an occasionally-puffing atomizer will be practically unnoticeable. Better yet, disguise the purse-riding atomizer as a wallet, and confess to coming to the airport in the middle of a pickpocketing spree. Bonus points if the pickpocketing is also staged for the benefit of cameras.

Taking another easy route, we could assume that contact's necessary to spread the scent to a person. That's also easy enough to accomplish. How many countertops, queue barrier posts, and restroom faucets are in an airport? With a small team of pre-contaminated guests with many complaints and small bladders, a barely-noticeable compound can be spread to hundreds of unsuspecting participants easily.

And with that, I'm probably now on yet another list...

Re:Anything that sensitive could cause problems (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245067)

You could do that now. Order some uranium off of ebay, smack it with a hammer to turn it into dusts, sprinkle on the mat at the departures section so every tracks it all over the airport and watch the Chaos. Frankly, I'm surprised it hasn't already happened.

Re:Anything that sensitive could cause problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42245123)

There are lots of ways to mess with the system and cause chaos. The fact that people aren't doing it tells me that this whole "OMG Terrorists!!!!" story isn't real. Add to that, they keep arresting morons who couldn't blow up a paper bag without help from government informants. Yes, 9/11 was horrible, but it doesn't justify all this security theater.

Re:Anything that sensitive could cause problems (4, Insightful)

Sarten-X (1102295) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245185)

It hasn't happened because it doesn't need to yet. I hate being one of those guys who says the terrorists have already won, but the terrorists have already won. An aspect of American daily life is interrupted by a constant reminder of how we pissed off somebody else. Once the privacy advocates fight enough, and enough time has passed to calm the politicians, the ridiculous security theater will relax... then there will be another incident to remind us that we will never be safe, and never really were.

The only way to return to normal convenient-yet-insecure life is to let attacks happen with no reaction, but that goes against human instinct.

Re:Anything that sensitive could cause problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42245651)

The only way to return to normal convenient-yet-insecure life is to let attacks happen with no reaction[.]

But then the terrorists would have won!

Re:Anything that sensitive could cause problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42244947)

I can only imagine

Equip every police cruiser with a THC (marijuana) detector. Routinely screen every vehicle you pull over; PC to search granted with every positive.

Re:Anything that sensitive could cause problems (1)

Entropius (188861) | about a year and a half ago | (#42247867)

Do that, causing a backup in the security line ... then send a suicide bomber with a wheelie-suitcase full of explosives, shrapnel, and warfarin powder into the line. Cue giant bloody mess with many, many dead people.

Does it now? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42244737)

has the potential to put bomb sniffer dogs out of a job.

Or it could give birth to laser-sighted dogs.

Re:Does it now? (0)

sosume (680416) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244843)

Easier to mount on a shark. Or a large brass if the shark doesn't cooperate.

Re:Does it now? (1)

drainbramage (588291) | about a year and a half ago | (#42246081)

A large brass what?
Knocker?

We detected the bomb, but... (2)

raftpeople (844215) | about a year and a half ago | (#42244779)

our laser set it off

Probable cause (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42244801)

Sensor technology to replace dogs will never see the light of day because LEA can't train a computer and sensors to produce probable cause on demand...wolf wolf....good boy heres your biscuit..

Grains of salt anyone? (1)

pkinetics (549289) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245169)

I'll believe it when it is well past prototype and challenged by people and not lab results.

But the reality is it WILL NOT alter the delays in traveling. TSA will still do instrusive checks, will still have Xrays etc. You still have to be treated like cattle for this false sense of security.

Seriously, there are wonderful things like vacuum seals.

bomb-sniffing mice (2)

RaymondRuptime (596393) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245479)

Why spend money on a laser that's not biodegradable, when instead you can just get Israeli bomb-sniffing mice [rawstory.com] ?

Re:bomb-sniffing mice (1)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245615)

Israeli bomb-sniffing mice

Because Israeli bomb-sniffing mice steal airplane jet engines, so you can't use them in airports.

Crafty little devils, those mice, they are.

Re:bomb-sniffing mice (1)

H0p313ss (811249) | about a year and a half ago | (#42246245)

Crafty little devils, those mice, they are.

It's fairly well accepted that Israeli mice are merely the protrusion into our dimension of hyper-intelligent pan-dimension beings who, unbeknownst to the human race, are the most intelligent species on the planet Earth. They spent a lot of their time in laboratories running complex experiments on man, apparently with jet engines.

Re:bomb-sniffing mice (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42246963)

How can it be both "fairly well accepted" and "unbeknownst to the human race" ?

Re:bomb-sniffing mice (1)

H0p313ss (811249) | about a year and a half ago | (#42247771)

So much for the suspension of disbelief.

Re:bomb-sniffing mice (1)

IAmR007 (2539972) | about a year and a half ago | (#42248567)

Just because the humans are ignorant of it doesn't mean the dolphins are.

Really? (3, Insightful)

nospam007 (722110) | about a year and a half ago | (#42245731)

"...pulsed, quantum laser-based, cavity ring-down spectrometer..."

A fucking PQLBCRDS ?

You guys need a better marketing team.

Inaccuracy (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year and a half ago | (#42246159)

... the potential to put bomb sniffer dogs out of a job.

Correction: ... the potential to make the same mistakes as other bomb-sniffer devices.

Does this test for common nitrates? If so, it will produce the same false-positives as current airport scanners.

Use a rat... (2)

Fuzzums (250400) | about a year and a half ago | (#42246217)

http://www.apopo.org/home.php?lang=en [apopo.org]

Easy to train, easy to maintain, cheap and multifunctional.
The laser technology definitely is cool, but I like the rat solution.

Lasers near explosives... (1)

Nuffsaid (855987) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251019)

...what could possibly go wrong?

Easy to beat the dogs (1)

cellocgw (617879) | about a year and a half ago | (#42251815)

Any number of google-available headlines read "dogs fail bomb-sniffing test." There are plenty of studies which show that bomb, and drug, sniffing dogs "detect" objects their handlers want them to detect.

Almost any residue detector would be better.

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