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Dstl tests sensors for airborne hazard alerts


Mark Say Managing Editor

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SIGMA sensor seen from below
SIGMA sensor
Image source: GOV.UK, Open Government Licence v3.0

The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has conducted a series of tests of sensors to detect chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive threats to cities.

It has carried out the trial on behalf of the Home Office and Department for Transport as part of the SIGMA+ programme, which is led by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

This draws on data from the sensors to detect vapours and tiny particles that can alert authorities to the presence of potentially dangerous materials recorded in the DTECT cloud based system. The system can host, fuse and visualise sensor data then present locations, outputs and alarms on a map based interface.

The different types of sensors involve the use of ion mobility spectrometry and conductive polymer sensors to detect chemicals, mass spectrometry to detect and identify chemicals, and raman spectroscopy and rapid sequencing to detect bacteria and viruses.

Alarm systems for the sensors are being developed to provide early warning protection for UK cities and major events.

Assessing future focus

Dstl said the trial has enabled it to understand the maturity of the sensors and assess how they perform in a UK city. The results have shown they worked well in London and where further developments should be focused.

The organisation’s project lead, who has not been named, said: “It’s been great to collaborate with our American colleagues and our US and UK technology providers. After two years of not being able to meet or carry out joint research, it’s been a great achievement to finally get this trial out in the field and I have no doubt we have gathered valuable data.

“The trial has enabled us to understand the maturity of the sensors as they are developed, and assess how they perform in a UK city. The results have shown the sensors worked well in London, and the experience gained operating them has shown us where development should focus in the future.”

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