EU researchers develop gadget that can sniff out explosives at 20 metres

25 Apr 2013

EU scientists have come up with a prototype device that could prove invaluable in the fight against bomb attacks. The gadget capable of detecting extremely small quantities of explosives at a 20-metre distance could prove extremely useful to security forces in light of the recent tragic bombings in Boston.

The Optix consortium has received €2.4m in funding from the EU Commission and is led by Spanish consultancy and technology multinational Indra.

The system makes use of advanced optic technology. Thanks to lasers that can precisely identify the atomic and molecular structure of explosives, the device can rapidly and remotely scan the object in question, such as a vehicle, piece of luggage or any opaque container, and pick up trace residue.

It is virtually impossible to handle explosives and transport them without leaving a trace: residue adheres to the surface of the objects that transport them, as well as the hands of the people who handle them and whatever they touch.

The Optix Project has focused on the development and combined use of two technologies for explosives detection: LIBS spectroscopy and Raman spectroscopy.


LIBS spectroscopy identifies the elemental breakage emissions (atomic and molecular) generated after excitement from a high energy laser ‘spark’. Raman spectroscopy measures the variations in the vibration states of the molecules that have been excited with a laser, making it possible to unequivocally identify their molecular structure.

To make the system portable, it will be integrated into a wheeled platform that can be transported in a standard-sized van to the area to be patrolled.

The platform will move along a car park or a street, for example, scanning surfaces where traces may be present, such as on the steering wheel or the door of a vehicle. A law enforcement officer will control the platform remotely from a portable ruggedised lab-computer.

The Optix prototype has already been successfully tested in laboratory and outdoor environments, simulated real-life situations and in various weather conditions.

Joint test scenarios have been arranged with experts from various European security forces, including the Guardia Civil (Spain National Police), Mossos de D’Esquadra (Catalan Police), Ertzaintza (Basque Police), as well as police forces from Romania, Poland and Italy.

The Optix consortium, led by Indra, is comprised of industrial and academic partners: Swedish Defense Research Agency (FOI); SMEs Ekspla (Lithuania) and Avantes (Holland); technical universities Clausthal and Dortmund (Germany), and Vienna (Austria), and the University of Málaga (Spain); and the Guardia Civil’s TEDAX unit (Spanish Police, Explosives Disposal Unit, Valdemoro, Madrid) as a first level user and institutional partner.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years