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Luggage lying around unattended at an airport are an obvious cause for concern. The hazardous task of getting up close to inspect what could potentially be a bomb that could explode any time invariably falls to the bomb squad. Researchers have come up with a way to minimize the risk by creating a sophisticated, robot-mountable, sensor system that allows authorities to scan a piece of luggage and get an accurate image of its contents. The contact-free detection system could not only potentially help bomb specialists assess the danger quickly, but it could also help them obtain vital evidence.

Developed by scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques (FHR), along with industry partners and criminal investigation authorities, the multi-modal sensor system consists of a high-resolution digital camera, a millimeter wave scanner and a 3D environment monitoring system. Once mounted on a robot platform, investigators can control the robot remotely as it makes its way to the luggage, using swiveling 3D sensors to completely survey the crime scene and take high resolution pictures for evidence. When the robot nears the luggage, it uses the millimeter wave scanner to survey it. The information is sent to the authorities via a built-in embedded computer on the robot, giving them a clear picture of the object’s contents.

Using a sensor that moves along set trajectories, the millimeter wave scanner scans the luggage and the Doppler information generated during the process is used to create in-depth high resolution images.

Bomb disposal engineers have typically been forced to destroy luggage bombs, which makes identifying perpetrators difficult for want of evidence. Getting an accurate three-dimensional image of the bag as well as the surrounding area, could help authorities quickly determine the danger to take the appropriate action.

Ways to determine the optimum trajectory to survey an object depending on its shape, its position in its surroundings and the robot’s position are under further study.

The team expects to demonstrate the millimeter wave scanner in April 2016 and field tests of the remote-controlled sensor suite will begin in mid 2017. The complete multi-modal sensor suite is expected to launch in 2019.