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Wearable weapon detection for the police force of the future

By Damir Beciri
11 June 2009

robocop-featA new system that enables weapon detection for the police force of the future is being developed in the UK. The research is funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office Scientific Development Branch. The Metropolitan Police Force is currently testing the scanner which is hoped to operational within two years. The project also involved researchers from Manchester University, Newcastle University and Queen Mary University of London.

A police scanner which resembles the hi-tech gadgets in films such as Robocop that can detect weapons hidden beneath a criminal’s clothing has been developed. The lightweight handheld unit uses high frequency microwaves to see through clothes and pick up “reflections” of concealed guns or knives from a distance of several meters. Intelligent software then interprets the images and only alerts officers to potential weapons – clearly distinguishing between everyday objects like keys and mobile phones.

It is hoped the scanner will reduce the number of attacks on officers who will no longer need to perform a risky stop and search to detect weapons. Officers will also be able to remain at a safe distance and call for back-up before confronting armed criminals.

Experts are keeping precise details of the unit secret for security reasons. Stuart Ibbotson, Metropolitan Police head of engineering, said the results of early tests were “very encouraging”. He said: “This kind of device would be of great service to officers, helping them to catch people carrying guns and knives without putting themselves in increased danger. It could also help to target stop and search to further increase its effectiveness.”

Nick Bowring, professor of electronic engineering at Manchester Metropolitan University’s Engineering and Technology department, is leading the project. He said fixed scanners, as seen in airports, worked well in controlled environments but a portable micro version was needed for a street environment. The professor said the new technology uses a combination of high frequency electromagnetic waves – microwaves – to pick up ‘reflections’ from concealed weapons.

It also uses neural network technology – which mimics human problem-solving processes to make diagnoses – to identify weapons and ignore everyday items. And the device is billed as non-intrusive as no reflective image of the subject’s body is produced, only of the weapon upon their person.

Bowring indicated the success of the project. He said: “This is a world first and a success for British science. This device means UK police will be able to lead the way in accurate mobile gun and knife detection without putting themselves in the line of attack.”

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