TSA wants more from bomb-sniffing dogs; new device mimics canine nose’s bomb-detecting abilities

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Thursday, November 29, 2012

YARMOUTH, Maine—The Transportation Security Administration, wanting to improve upon its use of bomb-sniffing dogs, is funding a research project on the use of canine teams.

The Department of Homeland Security Science & Technology Directorate sent out a solicitation to researchers last month looking for more information on how dogs understand when they have sniffed out an explosive. It expects final submissions on Monday, according to HS Today.

Prospective researchers were also asked to examine canine performance and the variables that affect the probability of dogs detecting explosives. Topics will include physical and physiological functions of dogs, fatigue, maximum and optimal search times, and capability to detect amounts and quality of improvised explosive devices in various environments concealed in various manners. 

DHS S&T has about $650,000 to spend on one-year research contracts for the dog program, according to news reports. Currently, TSA has trained and deployed 64 dog teams for passenger screening. It plans to train and deploy 73 by the end of this year.

Meanwhile, scientists at the University of California Santa Barbara say they have developed a detector that uses microfluidic nanotechnology to mimic the biological mechanism behind dogs’ scent receptors. The fingerprint-sized chip can detect airborne molecules of the primary vapor that emanates from TNT-based explosives, according to Homeland Security News.

“Dogs are still the gold standard for scent detection of explosives. But like a person, a dog can have a good day or a bad day, get tired or distracted,” researcher Carl Meinhart told HSN. “We have developed a device with the same or better sensitivity as a dog’s nose that feeds into a computer to report exactly what kind of molecule it’s detecting.”