explosive sensorGE Global Research, in partnership with inter-agency task force focused on anti-terrorism, The Technical Support Working Group (TWSG), Quantum Magnetics, and with assistance of KEMsense are working on an explosive detector of the size of a postage stamp. This explosive detector is a sensory tag making use of a battery-free, wireless RFID (radio-frequency identification) and has many advantages, in cost, size and versatility. The tags are especially capable of chemical sensing. Depending on performance specs and fabrication volume, GE global research expects production costs ranging from 5 to 50 cents. The sensor could be stamped as a sticker inside of a cargo container on a ship or on packaging for shipped goods. Airports could make use of the stamp system as a security solution.

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The detector is made of two parts- the RFID sensor tag and a battery powered cell phone-sized tag reader. If the RFID sensor tag is placed on the container to be analyzed, and the presence of an explosive is detected, the electronic properties of the sensory tag change and will thereby alert the cell phone sized tag reader. When the workers hold the tag reader up to the sensory tag, the radio frequency spectrum is predictably altered by the presence of hazardous materials trapped in the film. This radio spectrum response is picked up by the antenna and then transmitted back to the reader, which processes the data to let authorities know whether a dangerous substance is present and how much of it is around.

The RFID tag development could have many advantages. They could provide permanent solutions for the bulky, large desktop- based security systems in airports. The RFID system swabs and separately analyzes suspicious surfaces, consuming significant time, cost and power. Compared to a conventional desktop detector, this explosives detector is 300 times smaller, and reduces weight and power use 100 fold.

This advance brings us closer to a future of ubiquitous testing of chemical explosives

The reports describe that the sensory tag has a coiled antenna with a microchip attached at the center; with a special film layered on top. The antenna harvests power from the reader when it is nearby. The film and sensor combination detects the molecules of the explosive or the oxidizer that is used to make improvised explosives. The chemical detecting film is designed using various aspects of materials science, nanotechnology, chemistry and data analytics.

The applications of the technology can be extended to various applications in the future- passive gas leaks, electrical insulation degradation, and bacterial contamination detection.


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