The Robot Nose Always Knows

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Thanks to cameras, speakers and microphones there are robotic vehicles that can see, talk and hear what's happening at some potentially dangerous perimeter or checkpoint and relay the info in real time to a security center.

And, if necessary, the robotic gate guards can open or return fire on human command.

And while the machines still lack the "nose" to sniff out trouble, that soon could change thanks to a new, computerized scent detector manufactured by Israeli Defense Industries.

The U.S. Army has been talking to Scent Detection Technologies of Israel, which brought the Mini-Nose system to the United States about six months ago, about adapting it to a robotic vehicle, said Tom Neugebauer, SDT's U.S. Operational Integration Manager in Dallas.

"The Army contacted us a few months ago," he said today in Washington, D.C., where he was presenting the system at the Association of the U.S. Army's annual meeting and exposition. "They want to put it in places where they would need to screen people."

Neugebauer said the company developed the system at the request of the Israeli and U.S. governments. Israel was especially eager for a new-generation explosives detector because of the history of suicide bombings in the country, he said.

Unlike the systems used throughout U.S. airports, which rely on a chemical analysis of swabs rubbed across clothing and other items, the Mini-Nose uses a vacuum gun to "sniff" an object. The gun's nose is then placed into a small sensor chamber about the size of a desk phone where the vacuumed particles are analyzed.

The results are immediately viewable on a touch screen that is based on a Windows mobile operating system. The beauty of that is that if any new chemicals or combinations begin emerging on the terrorist explosive scene, the information can, once known, be downloaded to the chamber to be recognized when sniffed out.

Currently, at least one U.S. hospital and some corporations have adopted the Mini-Nose, but it's not yet being used at American airports. Negebauer said the company is still going through the process to be certified by the Transportation Safety Administration.

-- Bryant Jordan

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