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Covering the Bases

It's peanuts, Cracker Jack and sensors, as government researchers test their all-in-one chemical defense system at a California ballpark.
By Andrew Price
The stadium test's primary goal was to train RDCDS to distinguish between scents in a complex environment. "You want to develop signatures for common things that might be very near the signature of something you're concerned about," says Replogle. "We say, 'This is what cigar smoke smells like,' and then it can distinguish that from maybe some toxic chemical that has similar properties."

The McAfee Stadium test wasn't RDCDS's first venture into the real world. "We had a prototype detection system [installed] at San Francisco Airport in January 2005," says Wu. "We were there for about a week."

RDCDS learns to distinguish between scents in a complex environment, such as a stadium.
Nearing Release
As RDCDS nears its final release later this year, Homeland Security is already preparing for its real-world uses. Christopher C. Kelly, a Homeland Security spokesperson, says that RDCDS will be deployed primarily at "events that tend to attract both large numbers of people, as well as dignitaries," such as the Super Bowl, the State of the Union address and global summits.

Future plans for RDCDS include expanding the system's capabilities while making its components physically smaller. "Certainly, as things get smaller and detectors become more prevalent, I would anticipate that we would be able to continuously add to this system," says Replogle. He notes that the platform is capable of handling hundreds of detectors. "We already have 64 [detectors], and it really doesn't tax the system." In fact, cost and logistical complexity may be the only factors that dictate the system's practical limits.

Kelly hedges when asked about RDCDS's commercial potential. "This is still being determined," he says. Yet Harbor Research's Allmendinger thinks it's inevitable that RDCDS, or at least a scaled-down version of a similar system, will eventually become a standard fixture in venues such as shopping malls, resorts, theme parks and public parks. Homebuilders and condo and homeowner associations might also be drawn to the technology. "If costs come down, that's a real possibility," Allmendinger says. "It's a sign of the times we live in."

Photographs courtesy of Sandia National Laboratories.

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