Frequent travelers are probably familiar with the various signs and PA system announcements informing tourists to never accept luggage from strangers, and to report instances of abandoned luggage. Even the left behind luggage of a forgetful vacationer can prompt emergency action. In today’s world, it’s simply a matter of ensuring the public’s safety in the face of a potential bomb threat.
German researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Techniques (FHR) are developing a remote-controlled robot capable of providing emergency personnel with 3-D images of the contents within a potential suitcase bomb. The system is being developed with North Rhine-Westphalia State Office of Criminal Investigation, the Leibnitz Univ., ELP GmbH, and Hentschel System GmbH.
“Up to now our techniques have not allowed us to form a 3-D outline of suitcase bombs, and it has been impossible—or only partially possible—to make a spatial map of the contents,” said the project’s leader Stefan A. Lang. “With the sensor suite we can visualize in three dimensions what’s inside a luggage item, and so determine the composition of the bomb and how the parts are arranged in the luggage.”
The suite—comprised of a millimeter wave scanner, a high-resolution digital camera, and a 3-D environment monitoring system—is mounted on a robot platform. The robot is operated from a safe distance by bomb disposal engineers.
“Its swiveling 3-D sensors make a three-dimensional survey of the crime scene, and the digital camera provides high-resolution images for later optical evidence preservation,” according to Fraunhofer. “Meanwhile the millimeter wave sensor scans the source of danger and creates an image of what’s inside. A built-in embedded PC on the robot collects the data and sends it to the investigators, where it will be merged on the computer by means of sensor data fusion.”
According to Popular Science, present-day bomb squads require remote robots to carry potential explosives to a mobile x-ray station in order to discover its contents. This process can potentially dislodge parts of the bomb.
By preserving evidence, the new suite may allow investigators to learn much more about the bomb’s origins and creators than was possible before.
“For the radar we make use of the synthetic aperture radar…principle, by which the sensor is moved along a trajectory, a kind of track—from left to right in front of the case, for example—and the Doppler information generated in the process is used to create an image,” said Lang.
The project has received €2 million in funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research.
The multimodal sensor suite is set to be launched in 2019, but extensive field tests will begin in mid-2017. The radar sensor demonstrator will be completed this April.