Researchers from Fraunhofer FHR have developed a remote-controlled robot sensor system to help law enforcement agencies safely inspect suitcase bombs found at airports and train stations.
Abandoned luggage in public places, airports or train stations often spark off large-scale police operations all in the name of a bomb alert. Admittedly, most abandoned luggage items turn out to be harmless. But in the first instance the emergency services have to proceed on the assumption of possible danger and check whether they are dealing with an improvised explosive device (IED) that might blow up at any time. This involves getting up close to the luggage in question.
A system that makes it possible to assess the danger of the situation quickly – and also records 3D images of the contents and shape of the luggage as well as of the surrounding area – could make the specialists’ work considerably easier, speed up the reconnaissance process, and minimize the risk for the emergency personnel.
Since November 2014, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for High Frequency Physics and Radar Techniques FHR in Wachtberg have been developing such a system together with the North Rhine-Westphalia State Office of Criminal Investigation, the Leibnitz University in Hannover, ELP GmbH and Hentschel System GmbH.
The system the researchers developed comprises a multimodal sensor suite consisting of a millimeter wave scanner, a high-resolution digital camera, and a 3D environment monitoring system. The components are contained in a housing and mounted on a robot platform.
Bomb disposal engineers can remotely control the robot from a safe distance. Its swiveling 3D sensors make a three-dimensional survey of the crime scene, and the digital camera provides high-resolution images for later optical evidence preservation. Meanwhile the millimeter wave sensor scans the source of danger and creates an image of what’s inside. A built-in embedded PC on the robot collects the data and sends it to the investigators, where it will be merged on the computer by means of sensor data fusion.
“Up to now our techniques have not allowed us to form a 3D outline of suitcase bombs, and it has been impossible – or only partially possible – to make a spatial map of the contents. With the sensor suite we can visualize in three dimensions what’s inside a luggage item, and so determine the composition of the bomb and how the parts are arranged in the luggage,” explains Stefan A. Lang, team leader at the FHR and the project’s coordinator.
Image credits: North Rhine-Westphalia State Office of Criminal Investigation