If the device can be produced and later miniaturized, it may end up resembling a gun or grocery-store scanner.
The U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity wants to develop a hand-held, laser-based remote sensor that could detect and identify chemical weapons, explosives, narcotics and potentially even biological agents – all from up to 100 feet away.
The intelligence community’s research arm has awarded funding through the U.S. Air Force to five companies—LGS Innovations, Physical Sciences, Photonics Inc., Block Engineering Inc. and Leidos Inc.—through its Standoff Illuminator for Measuring Absorbance and Reflectance Infrared Light Signatures program.
The creative acronym— SILMARILS—comes from “Lord of the Rings” magical lore. IARPA’s goals for the project are anything but fictional.
Current technologies for detecting narcotics, explosives and other dangerous chemicals requires physical contact between humans and X-ray-based machinery like those stationed within major airports that scan suitcases and luggage.
In other cases, a human must swab samples of a substance and run them through a similar machine, which is time and labor consuming and risky.
IARPA aims to lower that risk and potentially speed up the detection of dangerous chemicals.
“This machine would use infrared lasers to measure the signature of chemical agents and different molecules so that it’s much safer, practical way of interrogating a surface, like the bottom of someone’s shoe, footprints and those kinds of things,” said Kevin Kelly, chief executive officer of LGSInnovations, which could earn as much as $11 million over four years through SILMARILS.