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The Defense Department has awarded researchers a contract to develop a scope that would let soldiers "see" traces of homemade explosives and other weaponized chemical or biological agents that are invisible to the naked eye.
The scope would use hyperspectral imaging to detect and classify the substances from a distance and to alert troops. Troops could use the device to check for "fingerprints" of harmful chemicals in homes or on vehicles while manning checkpoints.
The Pentagon awarded an $890,000 Small Business Administration grant to optics manufacturer Bodkin Design and Engineering of Newtown, Mass., to develop the sensor. The multiyear project would combine the company's HyperPixel Array imager with research from the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., according to a company statement.
Although the device would not see through walls, it would give soldiers the ability to detect certain residues on surfaces, said Jim Daly, a program manager at Bodkin.
"If we were to enter a building, there are some chemicals where, if you could leave traces on telephone handsets, we'd be able to see that," he said.
The hope is to develop a portable device akin to a video camera through which a soldier would see a contaminant on a desk or a wall and flash red.
A typical digital camera is programmed to measure three colors, but the hyperspectral scope under development would be able to detect 62 colors to which human eyes are not sensitive, Daly said.
There are other devices that can measure as many as 200 colors, and they might be used to detect polluted water or mineral deposits.
The Army and Air Force have been pursuing such technology. The Air Force announced plans this year to test Spectral Infrared Remote Imaging Transition on U-2s. And in 2011, the military began pursuing plans to install hyperspectral instruments in Predator drones that would detect explosives.