Sandia Labs developing next wave of technology Energy.
Sandia Labs developing next wave of technology Energy.

Oct 1, 1998 12:00 PM

Albuquerque company stresses innovation in its work for the U.S. Department of Sandia National Labs in Albuquerque, N.M., is a hotbed of new technologies and applications for the security industry, including exterior intrusion sensors, explosives detection and crime-scene evidence detection. These devices, and more, are in development or under the purview of the multiprogram laboratory operated by Sandia Corp., a Lockheed Martin Co., for the United States Department of Energy.

One of the most prominent biometric devices on the market, the ID3D HandKey hand geometry reader from Recognition Systems, grew out of a project Sandia co-developed 20 years ago at the Nuclear Security Systems Center, which was created in 1974 and became the Security Systems and Technology Center in 1993, according to the center's director, Dennis Miyoshi. "The original device," says Miyoshi, "was a mechanical scanner that measured the length of your five digits and converted that into a template that could be used for comparison the next time you used it."

Access delay systems, including a cold smoke system that fills a room with smoke when intrusion is detected to disorient and delay the trespasser, and a PC-based, distributed alarm control and display system are further examples of Sandia-originated technologies in the security market. Other technologies in from the early days of the Nuclear Security Systems Center entered the commercial security sector, but project information was not formally protected, so "on some things you could say maybe we originated it, maybe we didn't," says Miyoshi.

Sandia does not manufacture the prototypes it develops. Once the design and testing of a project are completed, the prototype moves on to the engineering and manufacturing development phase, in which a commercial company will ultimately win the right to manufacture the product. For instance, a company may be given a contract to manufacture 30 devices for Sandia and may subsequently use the new-found expertise to produce and sell the product. Sandia uses a variety of techniques to get the technology out to the marketplace, says Miyoshi. In the case of an explosives detector, Sandia is trying to get a commercial partner to help complete development. The partner would receive proprietary rights to the technology. For the past five years, Sandia has been "moving more toward a proprietary environment, in which one of the goals is to generate royalty revenue," notes Miyoshi.

Explosives detection When terrorist Osama bin Laden called for violence against American civilians in August, airports around the country tightened security. One of the projects nearing completion at Sandia - an explosives detection portal - could have a far-reaching impact in such situations. The portal, which looks like the metal detectors at airports, detects particles of the materials used in common explosives. In development since 1994, the device was tested at the request of the Federal Aviation Administration for two weeks in September 1997 at Albuquerque International airport (see drawing on next page).

In operation, the portal blows air over the person inside, while ducts at the bottom suck air out as a vacuum cleaner might, explains Chuck Rhykerd, a researcher in the Contraband Detection Technologies Department. "We puff you with little nozzles that ruffle your shirt and trousers," he says. "The particles are collected in a device developed at Sandia, a preconcentrator, and, after five seconds of collection, it sends the materials to a detector. The whole thing takes about 12 seconds."

Once the particles have been collected in the preconcentrator (essentially a molecular filter), the screen is heated to desorb the collected explosives back into the gas phase, and the resulting explosives-enriched vapor is pulsed into an ion mobility spectrometer (IMS) for detection. For the test, Sandia hired security checkpoint staff members to solicit volunteers to be screened at the portal, which was located immediately behind the metal detectors and x-ray machines at the Albuquerque airport. Only passengers who volunteered were screened. Of the 2,400 passengers who volunteered for screening during nine days of testing, 491 were surveyed verbally. Reaction was overwhelmingly favorable: 99.4 percent said the portal should be used in airports; 99.4 percent said they would go through the portal again and 96.5 percent indicated a favorable impression.

During the test, one nuisance alarm occurred, caused by a passenger who had visited a site that handled and detonated explosives during the previous week. About 20 passengers caused a false alarm, for a rate of less than 1 percent. The device will enter the manufacturing phase next year. "For 1999 we are going to do more research and build a new prototype," says Rhykerd. "We are looking for a commercial partner to manufacture the portals, so the device will be available in '99 sometime."

Evidence detection Another project nearing its final stages is an evidence-detection system that aids police investigators in finding organic evidence such as fingerprints, semen, saliva and urine. The lead researcher on the project, Colin Smithpeter, is working with the Albuquerque Police Department to test and refine the device. The device relies on the fact that all types of organic substances give off weak fluorescent emissions. The light is normally invisible to the naked eye because of interference from brighter light sources. Using time-gating and heterodyne techniques, with a lamp and an intensified CCD camera, researchers are able to see the fluorescent emissions. In practice, the lamp emits light in a 10-microsecond pulse and is synched with an image intensifier (a tube that amplifies light). A CCD camera detects the amplified light during the length of the pulse.

By using the pulsed lamp, researchers are able to get a higher intensity of light compared to a constant lamp. "By detecting light only when the lamp is on, we are able to gain in the signal-to-background ratio, where the signal represents the fluorescent emissions and the background represents the ambient light. The net result is we are getting more photons in a much shorter amount of time from our target (the evidence)," explains Smithpeter. The ambient light photons are "blocked" and the photons given off by the evidence are more clearly visible.

The device is being developed in partnership with Molecular Technologies Inc. , Albuquerque, with participation from the Albuquerque Police Department (APD). In September, members of the department brought to the lab the blade of a knife, a floppy disk, a CD case, paper and a cardboard box for testing of fingerprint detection, Smithpeter says. Sandia and the APD are scheduled to try the system at actual crime scenes in October.

"In general, we are going to have a large success in enhancing semen detection, but we expect to help investigators with fingerprint and blood-spatter detection as well," says Smithpeter. The project hopes to overcome drawbacks of a technique currently in use - a continuous-wave lamp and modified laser safety glasses that filter out the lamp wavelengths, allowing investigators to look for the fluorescence of the semen, says Smithpeter. The problem is that a dark, or blacked-out, environment is needed. If the crime scene is outdoors, investigators have to wait for nightfall or bring in black-out tents. For indoor scenes, it is often necessary to black out the windows.

Smithpeter anticipates wrapping up the final report on the project in January. Molecular Technologies will then decide how marketable the device is and whether to carry out their license right, says Smithpeter. "I think it will be inexpensive enough to be widely available to most police department budgets," he says. "That is our hope."

Wide-area detection The Advanced Exterior Sensor, a 360-degree scanning, multi-spectral imaging intrusion detection sensor, is in the proof-of-concept phase at Sandia; the Air Force has taken an interest and is looking for a private sector company to begin production engineering for the device, according to Daniel Pritchard, a lead researcher on the project. The Air Force will look at modifications and enhancements needed to make it more easily manufactured, says Pritchard. Design requirements are to detect human and vehicle intrusions moving as slowly as 0.25 meters per second across various terrain and environmental conditions. Suitable for day and night operations, the device can be set up and operated quickly and easily. Applications for the military include upgraded fixed perimeter security and rapid-deployment force protection on peacekeeping missions.

The system, which has a range of 50 to 1,500 meters and beyond, uses three sensing technologies - thermal infrared waveband, visible waveband and microwave radar, according to a paper ("Test and Evaluation of Panoramic Imaging Security Sensor for Force Protection and Facility Security") presented at the 14th Annual Security Technology Symposium and Exhibition in Williamsburg, Va., June 15-18, 1998. The sensor scans the 360-degree area every 1.3 seconds, and detection continues while the operator visually assesses the cause of the alarm. The device seeks to provide a low rate of nuisance alarms. "We have three separate target trackers operating, one for each sensor. We use the output of each and look at them combined to get a better idea of the threat to help suppress nuisance alarms," notes Pritchard.

The system uses digital signal processing for all three sensors, but "due to some hardware quirks and very high data rates, we don't quite yet have all three running simultaneously. We can run the radar by itself or we can run the visible sensor and infrared sensor simultaneously, but not all three," notes Pritchard.

Components of the sensor The Advanced Exterior Sensor has three major components. The remote sensor module is a rotating sensor pod that is placed in the field and remotely connected over a fiber-optic data link to a high-speed data processing module. Several remote modules and processing modules (used in combination) can be networked to cover a large facility. A single display control module is used to configure and control the other two modules, or, as envisioned, the whole network.

The remote sensor module uses an infrared sensor for good quality imagery in day or night conditions, with some advantage during poor weather. A lead-selenide linear infrared array, operating in the 3-5 micron thermal infrared band, is the primary sensing device in the remote sensor module.

A visible-waveband imaging sensor and a microwave radar sensor complement the infrared sensor. The visible-band sensor supplements the limitations of an infrared sensor during periods of low thermal contrast in warm-background, daytime operation. A radar has been included to overcome rain and fog obscuring the infrared and visible-band sensor. The radar developed for the project is a frequency-modulated, continuous-wave radar with area moving-target indication. The chosen frequency (17 GHz) was based on rain clutter and human-signature modeling.

Data processor module The data processor module consists of an industry-standard VME backplane and industrial quality enclosure, a custom Fibre Channel receiver and demultiplexer board, a high-speed, PowerPC-based control computer, and four digital signal processors. Each digital signal processor has five on-chip computers or processing units, for a total of 20 digital signal processing units that are synchronized and kept supplied with data. The tracking software uses the output of basic motion-detection software; then sensor fusion software is used to combine the three trackers to achieve an overall confidence value of the detection.

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