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A fast non-intrusive vapour detection system that rapidly identifies explosives in public areas

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Explosive vapours detection device can rapidly screen passenger shoes

Terrorist attacks are on the rise in public areas and explosive devices often go undetected due to the lack of specialised equipment. Airbrush developed new technology capable of rapidly detecting explosive materials down to one trillionth of a gram, which can easily integrate into existing security filters.

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Terrorism has become the most pressing security issue of the 21st century. Recently, there have been a series of deadly terror attacks. According to the United States Department of State, in 2016 alone 11 072 terrorist attacks occurred worldwide, resulting in more than 25 600 total deaths and more than 33 800 people injured. Not only can explosives or bombs be concealed in clothing, but terrorists are trying to invent new ways of smuggling explosives on board. What’s more, the bombs are increasingly ‘explosive’ and critical quantities required to cause serious damage are getting smaller, which complicates detection.

Savvy explosive detection technology for public areas

The EU-funded AirBrush project designed a security apparatus called ‘AirBrush’, a shoe scanner device that interrogates the passengers’ footwear. Yuri Udalov, project coordinator, explains: “AirBrush can detect energetic materials which have sufficient ‘power’ to damage an aeroplane with just a small quantity of explosive material concealed in the sole of a shoe.” Eye on Air is the company behind this advanced explosive detection technology. Using an ion mobility spectrometer, a system with the ability to detect not only explosive traces but vapours, allows the AirBrush detector to quickly make direct measurements with high specificity and high sensitivity. More specifically, the device can measure vapours emitted by 100 micrograms of TNT located at a distance of 10 cm from an AirBrush sampling nozzle. These vapours are collected by a proprietary pre-concentration unit for approximately 10 seconds and then released in the device’s sensing module. An expandable database has also been developed where each material will have its unique odour (ion mobility) signature.

Rapid and fine screening of passenger shoes

This fast, non-contact screening of shoes can test up to 180 passengers per hour when no alarm sets off, and it can automatically clear down, requiring no user intervention. AirBrush can scan and analyse shoes within 10 seconds, which greatly assists the current lengthy shoe screening process at airports – passengers remove footwear, which is put through an X-ray machine and returned to the passengers to put back on. Udalov adds: “The AirBrush can detect explosive traces to a picogram (one trillionth of a gram) level, something we are proud of. What is more, the AirBrush vapour sniffing technology is not limited to remote interrogation of shoes. This is more of an ‘electronic dog (nose)’ technology.”

Saving lives one sniff at a time

Combatting terrorism is clearly a top priority to better protect the public and save lives against existing and emerging threats from increasingly energetic explosives. The AirBrush solution will save lives as it works as a deterrent against those with potential terrorist intentions. Several airports and agencies have shown interest in this approach. “Practical implementation and tests in a real-life environment have been delayed due to the pandemic, but as soon as the European countries begin to open and the air traffic resumes, we will continue to work with interested parties,” concludes Udalov.


AirBrush, explosives, shoes, detection, terrorism, airport, ion mobility spectrometer

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