Military Embedded Systems

Smartphone-sized nuclear-radiation detectors developed by DARPA


August 26, 2016

Mariana Iriarte

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

Smartphone-sized nuclear-radiation detectors developed by DARPA

ARLINGTON, Va. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) researchers developed and demonstrated a network of smartphone-sized mobile devices that can detect radioactive materials.

The DARPA demonstration spanned over a month and took place at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Researchers tested more than 100 network SIGMA sensors. Officials say, the system provided more than a 100-fold increase in ability to locate and identify sources of radiation as compared to currently installed systems.

The results proved how the sensors could pinpoint the location and intensity of a source and specify, in each case, the type of radiation to which it was alerting authorities. Officials say, the technology was developed for the SIGMA program, which aims at creating a cost-effective, continuous radiation-monitoring network able to cover a large city or region. With this demonstration, the program achieved its goal of keeping the price at $400 per unit of for a total of 10,000 pocket-sized detectors.

“We are extremely pleased with SIGMA’s achievements to date in advancing radiation detection technology to fit in a portable, pocket-sized form factor at a price that’s a fraction of what current advanced sensors cost,” says Vincent Tang, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. “The ability to network hundreds, and soon many thousands of these smart detectors would make cities in the United States and around the world safer against a wide variety of radiological and nuclear threats.”

“A key feature of the SIGMA architecture is that it allows for automated, real-time detection, identification, and tracking of nuclear threats with continuous situational awareness via web-based command and control interfaces,” Tang continues. “We’re continuously improving the system and evaluating it in laboratory and operational settings. The user feedback and support from our Port Authority collaboration, as well as government partners such as the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office (DNDO) and the UK Home Office, have been invaluable for SIGMA’s development.”

DARPA is planning to demonstrate SIGMA’s full city- and regional-scale, continuous wide-area monitoring capability in 2017 and to transition the operational system to local, state, and federal entities in 2018.

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