Published: 03rd March 2020
Meet the IISc, UMARS researchers whose bomb detection device for DRDO could change security as we know it
We speak to Professor Umapathy who is a radio spectroscopy expert and one of his students to find out how RaIDer-X, a new explosive detection device developed at IISc and about their future projects
If you are interested in national security and intelligence sort of subjects, then you will know that the detectors at the airport cannot detect exactly what's in an envelope or whether the liquid in the bottle is really water or shampoo and so on. But with the RaIDer-X, you can detect what is inside the plastic bottle or an envelope even when they are concealed.
Yesterday, when the RaIDer-X, a new explosive detection device was unveiled at the National Workshop on Explosive Detection (NWED-2020) in Pune, the UMARS team from the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) was very happy about it. This device built by UMARS along with High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HMERL) will now be used by the DRDO in their lab.
The project was envisioned by Professor Siva Umapathy, who is the current Director of the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER) Bhopal has studied Raman Spectroscopy in-depth and has various patents to his name. He is also part of Universal Multiple Angle Raman Spectroscopy (UMARS) and has played a key role in several other projects. Explaining what led him to develop RaIDer-X, he says, "This idea for this project took birth when I met Subhananada Rao in 2007 during one of the committee meetings in Delhi. He has worked in different capacities in DRDO, HMERL and other organisations. When we were discussing various technologies, I invited him to Bengaluru to see the UMARS Lab. He said since I have expertise in Raman Spectroscopy, why not develop something for DRDO. There were no second thoughts. I agreed to it."
Deepak Kumbhar is a research fellow at UMARS and a part of this project. "Prof Umapathy guided me to build this device along with two other students," he says and explains how it works, "This device uses laser rays to detect anything from a distance of only two metres. When the laser is put on the object that has to be detected, it uses the scattered light around it and reflects in the same path to enter the spectrometer." Once the reading is received, it is compared with spectral readings form various dangerous objects by a computer programme, "The device works on the principle of Raman Spectroscopy. We have stored multiple spectrums of various explosives and chemicals contents and pharmaceuticals. It is a kind of database which we use to analyse the sample or object detected. The sample is analysed with the database through a Machine Learning algorithm. And we get the output to see what exactly it is made of. We call this database a library and we have multiple libraries available worldwide that consist of various chemicals as well as their information."
While one can store as many chemicals as one want in this library, the team has kept more than 20 explosives and 60 chemical samples in their library for RaIDER-X device. How accurate is it? He lets on, "If there is a paper bomb in the envelope then we can detect it without opening it. Similarly, if there is a drug inside a container or plastic then we will be able to find out the same without touching it or smelling it. The device is designed in such a way that it can also detect samples that are in the form of mixtures and not in their pure form. After the successful implementation at DRDO, the same can be used by the other security agencies. "
Prof Umapathy demonstrating the use of RaIDER-X device
Talking about how they developed it further, he says, "The project started in 2018 and we were in touch with scientists at HMERL. We developed the design of the device and demonstrated it to them. They approved it and finally decided to build the device. "
At the NWED-2020 exhibition, Prof Umapathy and team received an overwhelming response from various security agencies. Dr G Satheesh Reddy, DRDO Chairman also emphasised that the detection of explosives is a compelling need of the hour. He said, "Security agencies are continuously monitoring vulnerable targets with the help of intelligence agencies to thwart the attempts of anti-social elements. The joint pursuit of academia and DRDO in developing portable devices, which can now be safely and effectively used by security agencies, is vital."
Prof Umapathy and team are working to build another device that can analyse the skin of a human body. It can help us detect the skin diseases as well as chemical composition of the skin. We need not penetrate or take out the skin for testing. It can directly moved on the body to know what one is suffering from. For example, the device can detect diseases like vitiligo and identify various stages of the disease. Using this, the doctor will be able to cure skin diseases.