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Intelligent Machines

Bomb Buster

Neutron-based device could foil terrorists by sensing explosives in baggage.

Up to 40 percent of checked luggage falsely sets off airport bomb detectors, wasting time and money, and because the detectors look for suspicious objects rather than explosive chemicals, clever terrorists could still evade them. But HiEnergy Technologies in Irvine, CA, has dusted off a technology abandoned as impractical in the 1980s to create new sensors that can chemically identify explosives, even through steel. HiEnergy’s founder and CEO, Bogdan Maglich, says the device sends a harmless amount of neutrons toward an object. It then analyzes radiation induced by the particles to reveal the chemical makeup of the target. HiEnergy’s revival of the technology pivoted on its ability to control noise from neutrons hitting objects other than the ones being scanned. The Spanish government has asked the company to develop the technology into a car-bomb detector for use in parking garages; tests of the detector are scheduled for early December, and those of a baggage- and cargo-scanning system could follow in January.

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