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Sun, Jan 23, 2005 - Page 12 News List

Personal-security sensors vie to be the next big thing

A new company is using technology to try to make our lives safer. The secret lies in sniffing out threats with low-cost sensors

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

"Health applications could include diagnosing tumors by breath analysis, and other non-invasive diagnosis like checking for diabetes or sugar levels in your body," he says.

"You could have them in your house, in an improved smoke detector that can check not only for smoke but also for carbon monoxide, as well as seeing if you've left the gas on.

"There could be units inside your fridge to tell you when food is going off, or if you're in a supermarket you could run your mobile phone over an apple to see if there are any pesticides on it," he says.

Despite such a wide commercial proposition, the main drivers for sensor technology are security.

The Californian project is funded by the US Department of Homeland Security, while Owlstone's funding has come in part from the US Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

The ultimate aim is to combine these different sensors into a single unit, providing highly developed ways of spotting a chemical, biological or nuclear threat.

"Sensor fusion is a discipline that allows scientists to combine data and provide a sum greater than the parts," Craig says.

"For example, information from a portable radiation-detection system can be combined with that from handheld detectors and video cameras, and all of the data can be integrated to give a more complete report than one type of detector could provide," he says.

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