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Catching suicide bombers

April 10, 2007
Courtesy Technology Review
and World Science staff

Su­i­cide bomb­ers are part of the arms race of the 21st cen­tu­ry. And they have an ad­van­tage over their vic­tims, wheth­er ci­vil­ian or mil­i­tar­y: even if caught, they can of­ten still blow up the check­point where they were de­tected.

One com­pa­ny claims to have de­vel­oped a way around this: the first tech­nol­o­gy that au­to­mat­i­cally disco­vers the bombs from a safe dis­tance. The sys­tem in­volves aim­ing a low-power ra­dar beam at peo­ple from as far as 100 me­ters (109 yards) away.

Soft­ware with­in the sys­tem re­veals con­cealed ob­jects with­out show­ing the body un­der­neath, which could vi­o­late sub­jects’ pri­va­cy, ac­cord­ing to the de­vel­op­ers. The tech­nol­o­gy was de­scribed last month in Tech­nol­o­gy Re­view, a mag­a­zine of the Mas­sa­chu­setts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy. 

The sys­tem is de­vel­oped by SET Corp. of Ar­ling­ton, Va. The small, pri­vate­ly owned busi­ness was founded in 2002 by sci­en­tists from the De­fense Ad­vanced Re­search Pro­jects Agen­cy, the U.S. De­fense De­part­ment’s re­search and de­vel­op­ment arm.

The sys­tem uti­lizes vi­deo-anal­y­sis soft­ware de­signed by Ra­ma Chel­lappa, an elec­tri­cal and com­put­er en­gi­neer at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mar­y­land, ac­cord­ing to Tech­nol­o­gy Re­view. The soft­ware is de­signed to track the sub­jec­t’s move­ments, so the ra­dar stays on tar­get.

Oth­er su­i­cide bomb­er de­tec­tion sen­sors are ex­pen­sive, work close-in, and of­ten cre­ate pri­va­cy con­cerns, ac­cord­ing to the com­pa­ny.

The soft­ware could one day im­prove the tech­nol­o­gy fur­ther by not­ing slight dif­fer­ences in the way peo­ple walk when hid­ing heavy ob­jects, Tech­nol­o­gy Re­view re­ported. Thom­as Burns, SET’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, told the pub­li­ca­tion that the sys­tem, called “Coun­ter­Bomber,” could be ready for sale by this fall.


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Suicide bombers are part of the latest arms race of the 21st century. And they have an advantage over their victims, whether civilian or military: even if caught, they can often still blow up the checkpoint where they were detected. One company claims to have developed the first technology that automatically discovers the bombs from a safe distance. It involves aiming a low-power radar beam at people from as far as 100 meters (109 yards) away. Software within the system reveals concealed objects without showing the body underneath, which could violate subjects’ privacy, according to the developers. The technology was described last month in Technology Review, a magazine of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The system is developed by SET Corp. of Arlington, Va. The small, privately owned business was founded in 2002 by scientists from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. Defense Department’s research and development organ ization. The system utilizes video analysis software designed by Rama Chellappa, an electrical and computer engineer at the University of Maryland, according to Technology Review. The software is designed to track the subject’s movements, so the radar stays on target. Other suicide bomber detection sensors are expensive, work close-in, and often create privacy concerns, according to the company. The software could one day improve the technology further by noting slight differences in the way people walk when hiding heavy objects, Technology Review reported. Thomas Burns, SET’s chief executive, told the publication that the system, called “CounterBomber,” could be ready for sale by this fall.