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Novel sensors increase air cargo security

Two high-tech sensor prototypes for the aviation industry will help authorities combat illegal human trafficking as well as avoid onboard accidents involving the explosion of batteries in cargo holds.

Security

Air freight has witnessed an increasing number of incidents, from illegal immigrants hiding in cargo planes to the explosion of Li-ion batteries in the cargo hold. The EU-funded SNOOPY (Sniffer for concealed people discovery) project worked on overcoming these two specific threats. Bringing together stakeholders in sensor development, security and aviation from Greece, France, Italy and the United Kingdom, the project team developed a portable electronic nose that can identify these threats. The first prototype developed can detect molecules produced by the human body, such as sweat compounds, to signal the presence of stowaways. The second prototype detects lithium battery failure at early stages so as to warn the crew and trigger countermeasures in inaccessible cargo compartments. The advanced sensor technology featured in both prototypes was developed to be low in weight, size and power consumption, as well as to be active around the clock. A series of tests in near-real-life situations was conducted to ascertain the prototypes’ viability. The prototypes were first tested in the lab and then in field. Measurement and validation protocols were established by taking into consideration recommendations from border authorities and air transport experts. The sweat-detecting prototype was tested using worn t-shirts after exercise and placed in a confined space, while the Li-ion prototype was validated for battery overheating, overcharging, electrolyte leakage and flame development experiments. If exploited, the first prototype will no doubt improve the detection of illegal human presence in vehicles and cargo going through land borders, ports and airports. Importantly, the easy-to-use SNOOPY sniffer works as a standalone instrument that takes care of sampling, pre-concentration and detection, as well as decision-making. It also reduces the reliance on expensive sniffer dogs. The second prototype can radically minimise in-transport and onboard mishaps with Li-ion batteries, a phenomenon that had led recently to an air disaster. Both applications will bring more effective surveillance in two pivotal sectors in security. SNOOPY identified exploitation opportunities and disseminated its outcomes online as well as through the final project conference.

Keywords

Cargo, human trafficking, Li-ion batteries, SNOOPY, electronic nose

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