Scientists at a Georgia laboratory have developed trained wasps that could check for hidden explosives at airports and monitor for toxins in subway tunnels.

Joe Lewis and others at the University of Georgia developed a handheld Wasp Hound to contain the wasps while they sniff out chemicals and other substances.

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Scientists started working with a type of parasitic wasp called Microplitis croceipes, decades ago.

Biological engineer Glen Rains says the wasps can be trained --with sugar water by using the Pavlov's conditioning techniques-- to detect fungal diseases on crops while the damage is still below ground. This method would help farmers avoid having to spread toxic fungicide over an entire crop after the disease spreads.

The wasps may also be trained for medical uses, including detecting cancer or ulcers by smelling someone's breath. They probably can also be trained like dogs to find bodies buried in rubble.

Five wasps are placed in a plastic cylinder that is 15 inches tall. This Wasp Hound has a vent in one end and a camera that connects to a laptop computer. When the wasps pick up an odor they've been trained to detect they gather by the vent — a response that can be measured by the computer or actually seen by observers.

The scientists say their device is ready for pilot tests and could be available for commercial use in five to 10 years.

Via las insolitas aventuras del pez < USA Today.

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General Electric merged computer and scanning technologies into a remotely-monitored system that promises to get airport passengers through an automated checkpoint in 20 seconds.

"In our vision for the checkpoint of the future, no one will have to take shoes or coats off, or take anything out of pockets or take laptops out of bags," said Steve Hill from GE Security.

First travellers would press a finger to an explosive-sensing touch pad while checking baggage or getting a ticket.

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CAT scan devices would replace X-ray technology to scan carry on bags. Passengers would then step through a transparent "wave portal" capable of detecting "threat anomalies" such as weapons or bombs. Passengers would then step on a scanner that detects dangerous chemicals or other hazards.

The checkpoint was put together to test at San Francisco International during the past few weeks by GE technicians.

Via PhysOrg.

BlastWrap is a blast-dampening material made out of volcanic glass and sealed in food-packaging plastic. The material already lines the insides of 192 trash cans in the Washington Metro system.

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The cans can withstand the explosive force of more than 12 pounds of high explosives without coming apart.

BlastWrap is filled with grains of perlite, a volcanic mineral much like pumice. When perlite is heated, water trapped in the grains makes them expand, "popping" them like popcorn. When crushed, expanded perlite yields a bit but still stands up to more crushing.

The other component of BlastWrap is a flash-suppressing substance like boric acid. The materialcan be bought as roach killer at the hardware store for $5 a pound. It contains water but loses it when heated, a reaction that absorbs energy very quickly.

Made of cheap materials and produced on meat-packaging machines, a one-inch layer of BlastWrap costs just $16 per square foot.

Via Popular Science. More info in MSNBC.

Related: Pucchin Sukatto, a pack of 15 square sheets of bubble wrap, created for the sole purpose of bubble popping.

The i-garment project aims to develop smart garments for for the Portuguese Civil Protection. The suits will be equipped with sensors to monitor position, vital signals (temperature and heart beat) of the firefighters. The information will be sent via a wireless link to Civil Protection Officers in the HQ, processed and returned to the field officers equipped with PDAs and/or TabletPCs.

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Tightly integrated with the fire-fighting garment, sensors, telecommunication, localisation, alert and processing hardware collect the status and position of the fire-fighter and transmit it wirelessly and in real time to a data collecting computer installed in local Operational Field Vehicles (OFV).

Besides, the system will allow the data to be transmitted from the local OFV to the main servers via satellite transmission, making the data available from virtually anywhere there might be a fire situation, without the need for further communication infrastructure.

Thanks Antao.

The Homeland Security Advisory System is a color-coded terrorism threat advisory scale. The different levels trigger specific actions by federal agencies and state and local governments, and they affect the level of security at some airports and other public facilities (wikipedia.)

The sytem has inspired several art projects.

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Paul Davies' Department of Homeland Security Safety Vest will keep you warm in case of a terrorist attack but it also features a lighted Threat Level indicator so you can always be alert to any terrorist threat. The DHS Vest works by connecting over 802.11 wireless networks and downloads the current national threat level XML file from the DHS website, downloads it to the vest, and displays the current color.

Image.

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The Homeland Security Blanket, created by FutureFarmers in 2002, is a networked blanket wirelessly networked to the internet. The prototype responds to the Homeland Security color coded "Threat Levels" by a temperature change and an indicating light which alerts the user of current threat and comforts them accordingly.

At the MOMA's show Safe: Design Takes On Risk, through January 2, 2006.

Previously blogged:

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Ryan Schoelerman
and Sky Frostenson's Blowhard game: two players compete by breathing into a CPR mask, where a breath sensor translates cumulative respiration into the player's current level of anxiety, shown on a screen in the same color-coded system used by the Department of Homeland Security's Threat Advisory System.

Players must increase their anxiety gradually, moving up one stage at a time. Upon completion of a level the display provides feedback via audio-video USA fear culture propaganda from the 1950s to the present. The first player to reach the top, wins.

The Homeland Insecurity Advisory System project, by Jonah Brucker-Cohen, allows people to determine the US Government's Threat Level by collectively rating RSS feeds from major US news sources. The system lets people collaboratively challenge the internally determined (and seemingly arbitrary) threat condition by rating each major US news source according to its support level for or against the US Government's actions.

UPDATE: David Karave asked me to mention an animatronic work that engages with and parodies the color code alerts, he has been worked on it over the course of 4 years together with more than 30 artists in the US and Canada.

A new walk-through airport lie detector developed by Israeli firm Nemesysco is claimed to be able to detect potential hijackers or drugs smugglers.

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The GK-1 voice analyser requires that passengers don headphones at a console and answer "yes" or "no" into a microphone to questions about whether they are planning something illicit.

Those that fail are taken aside for intensive questioning and, if necessary, searches. Amir Liberman said around 12% of passengers tend to show stress even when they have nothing to hide. "Some may feel nervous because they have used drugs, while having no intention to smuggle drugs," he explained. "The whole thing is performed in a low-key manner to avoid causing anxiety."

Via Yahoo news and Il Corriere della Sera. Image via boingboing.

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