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Chemical detecting robots and drones developed in wake of Novichok poisoning

Chemical tests, such as those made recently in Salisbury after the Novichok poisoning, could be carried out by drones and robots in the future.

A new fleet of robots and drones designed to test for chemical agents, provide 3D mapping and identify casualties have been put through their paces by troops, police officers and scientists for the first time.

The devices would help to keep troops and emergency services at a safe distance and potentially save them from exposure to hazardous substances.

The recent trials, which took place at Gloucestershire Fire Service College, saw concept drones and robots thrown into simulated contaminated scenarios in both UK homeland and battlefield environments.

The technology was tested against the speed and accuracy of human response teams supported by the military, police and fire services in addition to specialist Defence Science and Technology Laboratory scientists at the Ministry of Defence.

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One of the units undergoing testing

Scientists from Porton Down, the military research facility that tested for the nerve agent after the attack on former spy Sergei Skripal, were involved in the trial at the Fire Service College in Gloucestershire.

Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Following the reckless nerve agent attack in Salisbury this year, we have seen the bravery and professionalism of our Armed Forces, emergency services and MoD scientists.

“They have worked tirelessly to investigate and clean up deadly contaminated areas.

“This project will ensure we stay at the forefront of dealing with such heinous attacks, whether on our streets or on foreign battlefields.”

The £3m Project Minerva launched in September 2016 saw a ‘Snake Eyes’ drone tested that can relay 3D images while detecting chemical agents using a laser system, the MoD said.

Salisbury has been subjected to a widespread testing for the nerve agent after it was used in an attempted murder on Mr Skripal on 4 March.

His daughter Yulia was also successfully treated, but about three months later a 44-year-old woman, Dawn Sturgess, died after inadvertently coming into contact with the agent stored in a perfume bottle.

Police and the government have accused two men alleged to be Russian military intelligence service officers of carrying out the attack on the orders of the Kremlin.

Earlier this month the Home Office began consulting on proposals to bolster stop and search powers in order to allow police to be more rigorous in dealing with people who intend to use drones for illegal or disruptive purposes in the UK. 

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