The Optix consortium's prototype on display at a trade show

Laser bomb detector spots explosives at 20 metres

A laser-based portable bomb detector can identify extremely small quantities of explosives at a 20-metre distance.


The Optix consortium, which has received €2.4m in funding from the EU Commission and is led by Spanish consultancy and technology multinational Indra, has successfully developed and tested a prototype device that they hope providing police and security forces with an invaluable asset in the fight against bomb attacks.

Thanks to lasers that can precisely identify the atomic and molecular structure of explosives, the device can rapidly and remotely scan any object, such as a vehicle, piece of luggage or any opaque container, and pick up trace residue.

It is virtually impossible to handle explosives and transport them without leaving a trace as residue adheres to the surface of the objects that transport them, as well as the hands of the people who handle them and whatever they touch.

“The standoff detection of traces of explosives would increase security in every scenario. Not only would security be enhanced, but the inconvenience for citizens would be reduced significantly through the use of a non-invasive and non-hazardous explosive detection system,” explains Alberto Calvo, security director at Indra.

The device combines two technologies for explosives detection: LIBS spectroscopy, which identifies the elemental breakage emissions generated after excitement from a high energy laser and; Raman spectroscopy, which measures the variations in the vibration states of the molecules that have been excited with a laser.

To make the system portable, it will be integrated into a wheeled platform that can be transported in a standard-sized van to the area to be patrolled.

The platform will move along a car park or a street, for example, scanning surfaces where traces may be present, such as on the steering wheel or the door of a vehicle.

A law enforcement officer will control the platform remotely from a portable ruggedised lab-computer on which he or she will directly receive the results obtained by the system.

The Optix prototype has already been successfully tested in laboratory and outdoor environments, simulated real-life situations and in various weather conditions, but further trials are planned to increase the sensitivity, precision and robustness of the system before making it available to European police and security forces.

In addition to its application in the field of remote detection of explosives, the laser technology developed by the Optix consortium shows interesting capabilities in other areas, in particular the field of forensic investigations.

The consortium has already held sessions to demonstrate the technology with experts from the Spanish, Romanian, Polish and Italian police forces.

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