General Question

krrazypassions's avatar

How can we use electronics to detect explosives?

Asked by krrazypassions (1332 points ) July 13th, 2011

Lets say we have to build an anti-bomb security system so that any bomb placed in public places by terrorists can be automatically detected and defused quickly and effectively. We could have a lot of insect-like bots in our atmosphere who will form a grid all over the world and detect any explosive device and then defuse it.
How do we do the first major task of electronically detecting an explosive in a crowded place?

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8 Answers

WestRiverrat's avatar

Since many explosives are triggered by electronics now, an electronic detector is not a good idea. The detection equipment has as good a chance of triggering a device as detecting one.

krrazypassions's avatar

@WestRiverrat The aim is to design an automated system- possibly of intelligent bots- I don’t know how electronics can be avoided in such a case…

WestRiverrat's avatar

So how would creating a detection system that will set off most of the explosives it is trying to detect going to be a success? The bomb makers are not going to stop redesigning their devices to defeat detection so making a one size fits all solution won’t work.

It didn’t take long for the Germans and Japanese soldiers to figure out ways to defeat the US and Allied mine detection methods during WW2. They came up with mines that would be set off by the very detectors that were supposed to find them. It didn’t take more than one or two set in a standard minefield to make minesweeping one of the least desirable jobs in the army.

Same with the koreans and North Vietnamese.

jerv's avatar

You would need passive sensors to detect the “odors” given off as active sensors might trigger the device, but that would only lead to better ways to mask explosives and/or new explosive compounds that are not “in the book” and therefore undetectable in the same way that the human ear cannot hear the color blue.

As was/is the case between guns and armor, it’s an arms race. There will never be an end-game, only a lot of PR spin that we have the ultimate safeguard (or the ultimate explosive).

WestRiverrat's avatar

Another thing, how will this array tell the difference between explosives used for good and explosives used for bad. The same explosive used to implode and old, unsafe building is also used in making an IED.

krrazypassions's avatar

@WestRiverrat We need to study how (especially the techniques used intellectually) bomb detection experts- military personnel, sniffer dogs detect bombs- and impart those senses, skills and intelligence to the bots…
For the problem of telling a good and bad explosive apart- on what basis do we ‘decide’ or ‘know’ which one is good and bad? one point is its location (an old building that needs to be brought down for safety means v/s any other building that is in use) , another is presence of people ( any place where there are people around should have no bombs- so obviously it will be a bad explosive in such a place)
Thus, we can have a comprehensive list of factors differentiating good and bad explosives and develop such smart algorithms to impart expert intelligence for bomb detection to the bots.
Such a wireless grid will be useful not only for bomb detection- its a very big utility for rescue and reconnaissance missions during natural disasters…
So serious R&D in that respect is justified.

krrazypassions's avatar

@jerv, @WestRiverrat
Its true that it will be only an arms race- different designs and materials might be used to hide the explosives from the newly developed sensors/bots/system.

Okay, how about a different approach to the problem-
rather than having the bots to learn different ways of defusing the wide range of varieties of bomb which might be an endless endeavor, can we have a strong shield-like device that will form a layer over the explosives and contain the explosion within it so that no damage will be done?
Any idea whether there already are such means to contain explosions / restrict explosions/ minimize their impact?

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