• Nov 29, 2010
Researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School and the University of California, Santa Cruz may have found a new use for most drivers' worst nightmare. William Fox and John Vesecky have discovered that with a little tweaking, a run-of-the-mill radar gun can become an instrument for detecting suicide bombers. The duo found that at a specific frequency, the gun can pick up on patterns of looped wire typically used in bomber suicide vests. Testing is in the beginning stages right now, but thus far, the gun has been able to accurately pick out volunteers dressed in replica suicide vests 85 percent of the time at a distance of around 33 feet.

There are some hang-ups, though. Most noticeably, the gun yields a high rate of false alarms, with things like underwire bras and jewelry yielding the similar radar cross sections as a suicide vest. Both Fox and Vesecky are hoping that the U.S. Military will invest in their research, allowing them to fine-tune the device moving forward.

[Source: New Scientist via Engadget | Image: Matt Carty/Getty]


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  • 24 Comments
      • 4 Years Ago
      I'm not entirely convinced that "Tata" lettering is original...
      • 4 Years Ago
      Am I the only one that wishes we'd keep this information classified? These terrorist can adapt before we can actually put the guns to use!
      • 4 Years Ago
      AB, how about an Edit button?
      • 4 Years Ago
      This looks like a win. our troops can be safer which equals to hopefully less injuries and deaths. As for the false alarms I get them too with my detector but its better to be safe than sorry
        • 4 Years Ago
        So what you're saying is killing innocents and angering the local population further is better than taking a chance.

        The bloody thing has a range of 33 feet, do you have any dang clue how short that is? You've got more chances of getting IED'ed than escaping the death claws of a suicide bomber *this* close from you.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @aprime

        No, I believe he us suggesting that if it alarms, you take a much more cautious approach to this particular person, not light them up. And if I have to be anywhere near a detonation, 33 additional feet could be the difference between injury and death.

        I too feel a way to trigger them remotely would be teriffic. Just finding the right frequency and power level... :)
        • 4 Years Ago
        False positive is better than false negative.
        • 4 Years Ago
        @aprime
        The radar guns can very easily be remotely operated with a little tweak. Wired/Wireless, statically mounted/robot mounted, etc.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Alex--

      "False positive is better than false negative."

      Depends on how people respond to a false positive. So long as troops are carefully trained not to shoot into a crowd of civilians because the radar detector is going off, I'll agree with you. But I could see how false positives for suicide bombers could lead to disaster if untrained/panicked troops react with live ammunition.
      • 4 Years Ago
      To rip off the Bill Murray quote from "Caddyshack":

      "Is that a bra you're wearing, or you going to blow us all to kingdom come?"
        • 4 Years Ago
        Good idea actually, Wonder if they could make some sort of giant induction coil to induce current in the bombs wires to pre detonate the bombers before they get close. They could ID them then zap them from afar.
      • 4 Years Ago
      To rip off the Bill Murray quote from "Caddyshack":

      "Is that a bra you're wearing, or are you going to blow us all to kingdom come?"
        • 4 Years Ago
        oh NOW i get it!

        u gotta love AB for this crappy commenting sy... joke
      • 4 Years Ago
      Anything that will help protect our troops I'm fine with and encourage! Nice to know those evil things will be made to do something good haha.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "Anything that will help protect our troops I'm fine with and encourage!" I'm with you all the way on that Calvius, but I would also temper the enthusiasm for a few reasons...

        1. From what I understand, this is simply an experiment and feasibility study at this point, and not something in or about to be in production.
        2. It is interesting that they were able to find the best resolution in the sub-millimeter band at 10GHz, but with that low power, it might be highly susceptible to changes in subject placement (how and where they're standing) and materials use, which would skew the radar cross section, and thus identification.
        3. Most importantly, if a technology like this were to be used, it could be countered by relatively quickly by some insurgent and terrorist groups, perhaps by altering their wiring layout or wiring materials, by placing the bomb elsewhere on the body, by using women who would likely produce false positives with underwire bras and therefore require a pat-down, etc.

        The controlling factor in any security situation like this is competition - essentially the cycle of response and counter-response by the defender and attacker. A perfect example comes from Iraq, when in 2005-2006 Iran started supplying infrared-triggered Explosively Formed Penetrators, or EFPs. That sophisticated IED used an explosive travelling through copper cone which would create a shaped charge that would melt the cone and turn it into a highly focused jet of molten copper, tunneling through standard and some composite armor.

        The response was to come up with different types of composite armor that could defeat the shaped charge, but that was expensive and would take time, so while that was in the works we looked toward alternatives. The first EFP's used a wireless trigger, so we jammed the signal. Then insurgents started using infrared triggers, which would go off when they detected the heat of the vehicles engine. So we used a standard metal ammo container, put a heating element in it, attached it to a 10ft boom, and placed it on the front of the vehicles. So the insurgents used the same IR-trigger, but aimed the EFP back toward where the vehicle would be. So we started using the same ammo can / heating element on a telescoping pole, that could be set at any length randomly. So the insurgents went back to using pressure plate triggers in the road that were calibrated to the heavy weight of our vehicles, so in response we started... and so on.

        My point is, you can have an advantage over an opponent, but only for a while until they come up with something that renders that advantage null. Its part of a never-ending game. If this radar tech is employed, it will be beaten, but then we'll modify it, etc. Its also important to recognize that tech like this radar system is only one piece of the defensive arsenal amongst the others; like GSM and radio jammers, infrared, sniffing dogs, check-point or entry point design and materials, training of personnel, intelligence, etc, etc.

        Not to sound all doom and gloom, but if there is some area that I'm familiar with I like to add a little context. If its any consolation, the fatality rate of US Soldiers and Marines is significantly lower today than it was in past major wars, and the survivability rate of those wounded is significantly higher.

        P.S. - hey AB, the photo you've shown is of British Army forces in Southern Iraq... not exactly germane to something developed by NPS and US Santa Cruz for US forces in Afghanistan.
        • 4 Years Ago
        This reminds me of that scene in Robocop when they can't get that robot to stand down and it lights into that executive guy.
        • 4 Years Ago
        As Aprime noted below, 10 meters or 32.8 feet is not much room between you and the explosive, but they researchers said they were hoping to get grants from the US Army to extend the range and cut down on false positives.
      • 4 Years Ago
      So would a run of the mill radar detector with some tweaks be able to pick this up? :P
      • 4 Years Ago
      I don't imagine under-wire bras are going to be an issue where the troops are. Jewellery...meh, doubt that too. Maybe just shoot, ask questions later. It's not like 33' will give you a lot of time to make a decision though.
        • 4 Years Ago
        "I don't imagine under-wire bras are going to be an issue where the troops are."

        Uh...crowded marketplaces in third-world countries? That's where suicide bombers love to attack (given recent attacks in Baghdad), but also where lots of non-combatant women who might be wearing jewelry and bras are trying to buy food for their families.
      • 4 Years Ago
      This isn't for "terrorists". Read the original article. They plan on using them to scare and control you people in malls, airports, railway stations in combination with the surveillance cameras.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The world has already survived several "ism's" already - fascism in the 30's and early 40's, communism in the 50's and 60's, and I'm sure the current threat of terrorism will ease and pass. I don't remember feeling threatened by it 30 years ago I expect it will be a distant memory 30 years from now.
      The nut-bags will eventually learn that the western world is not going to collapse or give up anytime soon.

      Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to visit my local Police station to see how many radar guns they'd like to donate to the research...
        • 4 Years Ago
        Hey, we might be about the same age.......old. I agree 100%. I'm old enough to remember my " I like Ike" political buttons... were you?
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