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Periodic Report Summary 2 - SNIFFLES (Artificial sniffer using linear ion trap technology)

Project Context and Objectives:
The Sniffles project is aiming to develop a universal gas sensor using modular technologies to function as an artificial sniffer. It will detect a range of substances, including but not limited to people, drugs, explosives (including weapons) and CBRNe. The technology will complement trained sniffer dogs. The technology proposed is based on linear ion trap (LIT) mass spectrometry (MS).

MS techniques have been increasingly deployed in security sniffing applications. MS is a non-intrusive, high-resolution technique able to detect single atoms and complex molecules through their charged species (ions) or fragmentation pattern. The technique is capable of detecting an extremely wide range of substances rapidly, with high accuracy and with a stand-off capability – critically it is able to detect trace levels below parts per million. Once the MS fingerprint of an unknown substance is measured it can be compared online with a database of known substances and rapid identification can be made on the spot in real time.

The Sniffles project aims to develop a LIT MS based device that has a mass range larger than other comparable MS techniques. Additionally, methods for miniaturisation and modularisation are being applied to allow reduced vacuum demand and upgradeability. Miniaturisation is made possible through improved designs based on results from modelling, implementation of novel manufacturing techniques and improvements in the MS drive electronics and vacuum system. These advances will bring benefits including reduced acquisition/operating costs, greater mobility, user friendliness and flexibility.

The Sniffles project has the potential to have a significant impact on national security and border control and enable exploitation of international markets. Performance will be compared and benchmarked against a state-of-the-art conventional MS system, as well as security sniffer dogs – within the context of a border security checkpoint. A successful project outcome will demonstrate an automated, portable MS-based sniffer instrument, tested and evaluated for a range of security applications and markets by end-users.

Project Objectives

The main objective of the Sniffles project is to develop a state-of-the-art miniature and portable electronic gas sensor capable of detecting hidden persons and illegal substances. The project is aiming to provide a cost effective and scalable technology to complement the work of sniffer dogs.

The main aims of the Sniffles project are:

• To design, simulate, build and validate through field testing, an artificial sniffer with the ability to sense a wide range substances up to 2000 amu.
• To provide a portable, easy-to-use through integration of various technologies.
• To be able to detect the specified threats/substances rapidly (<1 sec) and continuously, with stand-off capability (< 300mm), at low levels (less than parts per million) and accurately (a false positive rate of <2%).
• The portable system will fit inside a briefcase sized holdall of dimensions 40 cm x 30 cm x 10 cm and will have an operational weight < 8kg.
• Ion trap objectives: small, lightweight and low cost, yet capable of achieving the required mass range (2000 Da), resolution (<1 Da) and high sensitivity (at sub-parts per million trace levels).
• Sample inlet: able to accept all vapours and solids of interest.
• Electronic Control Unit (ECU): miniaturised and operating at low power (<25W).

Project Results:
A summary of the work carried out in each of the technical work packages in first 18 months of the project is outlined below:

Work Package 1: Systems Engineering and Scientific/Technology Roadmap
• Creation of artificial Sniffer operational procedure
• Gas load evaluation of the vacuum system.
• Vacuum system concept definition
• Ergonomic Design Constraint Specification
• Sensor performance metric.

Work Package 2: Ion Trap: Design, Simulation and Manufacture
• Ion Trap Design and Simulation
• Manufacture of the Linear Ion Trap by conventional CNC machining.
• Manufacture of the Linear Ion Trap by Additive Manufacturing technique Digital Light Manufacturing (DLP)
• Assessment of the Manufacture of the Linear Ion Trap by Inkjet Printing.

Work Package 3: ECU Manufacture, Testing and Software
• The electronic control unit (ECU) manufacture.
• Testing for MS functionality.
• Creation of the Software for the GUI.

Work Package 4: Optimisations of operating conditions
• Experiments assessing the vapour ionization by EI source coupled to the LIT. Experiments of vapour ionization by EI in the LIT.
• Injection and focussing in the LIT of ions created at atmospheric pressure.
• Improvement of the Ion preparation in the LIT.

Work Package 5: Sample Inlet
• Creation of a sample inlet device using discontinuous atmospheric pressure ionisation (DAPI).
• Creation of a sample inlet device using direct analysis in real time (DART) (using micro plasma).

Work Package 6: Vacuum System
• The design of the vacuum system.
• Design and assembly of the test bed for the vacuum system.
• Screening of new getter materials.

Potential Impact:
The SNIFFLES consortium consists of specialists in complementary fields particularly well qualified for the development of portable MS instrumentation, testing and simulation, traditional and novel LIT manufacturing methods and demonstration and validation of the technologies within the border security and customs control environment. The expected final results consist of a portable device that is capable of;
• High speed detection of chosen substances via the use of ion traps.
• High range of substance detection, through the LIT based sniffer.
• Stand-off capability, flexibility and automation for use at border check points.
• Affordable for the end user via the use of a) the innovative features of the technologies (b) small vacuum sub-system, (c) low-cost custom-made analysers and (d) dedicated electronics.

The final device has the potential to have a wide impact on a number of different sectors. These are detailed below:

Operational use at border checks
The LIT-based sniffers could be used at all border checks where dogs are used and beyond. This includes high speed detection and continuous monitoring of air and surfaces to prevent transport of illegal substances at crossing points on land, airports and seaports. The final instrument will be user-friendly with effective data processing and alerting system. It will also be flexible because of its portability and ability to be remotely controlled by using high speed wireless or satellite connection. With remote control and monitoring of the sniffer device, the armed forces could be alerted in critical cases, such as detection of biological and chemical warfare agents.

Streamlining of Passenger Traffic
One of the most difficult tasks in the streamlining of passenger traffic is to manage the increasing flow of passengers and goods, and at the same time perform detection and monitoring of dangerous substances. This is especially challenging for external borders of the EU where the transport of illegal substances is highest. Therefore, to ensure the smooth flow of passenger traffic, it is essential to have a sensor that is easy to use, that is flexible and portable, that provides fast and reliable detection at low false alarm rates, and that can be remotely controlled. The final sniffer device will have all these features that will reduce in-line waiting times.

Increased Security by Reducing Human Error
The final sniffer instrument will be semi-automated with the person only needing to trigger the device to take a sample; this means the device doesn’t require constant monitoring during operation like some other detection instruments. For example, X-ray scanners that are used for detecting hazardous materials at airports produce images of objects on the screen that are constantly human-monitored. After several hours of monitoring, the worker will get tired and may miss something important. The instrument will automatically produce an alert when a dangerous substance is detected, which will reduce any possibility of human error in monitoring.

Increased Privacy of Design
The final instrument will aim to offer a more secure, less invasive, less legally and ethically questionable method of detecting illicit substances than some other competing technologies.

List of Websites:


Debbie McConnell, (Senior Commercial Officer)
Tel.: +44 1223 899410
Fax: +44 1223 8990952


Numero di registrazione: 182451 / Ultimo aggiornamento: 2016-05-20
Fonte d'informazione: SESAM