SAPER app turns a smartphone into a mobile bomb sniffer
By Jan Belezina
May 21, 2012
With unexploded ordnance and land mines remaining a serious global problem, we’ve seen many efforts to develop new technology to detect these dangers, such as using terahertz waves and inkjet-printable sensors. But instead of relying on the development of new technology, some students at the Military University of Technology in Warsaw have sought to use an existing one in a new way with the development of their SAPER explosives detection app for smartphones.
“Saper” is the Polish term for “minesweeper” and, at the same time, an acronym for “Sensor Amplified Perception For Explosives Recognition.” The aptly named application uses the magnetometer - normally responsible for your phone’s compass-like functionality - to detect minute disturbances in the magnetic field around an explosive material. Forty different kinds of explosive materials can be sniffed out from 30 cm (11.8 inches) away.
Before the suspected area can be inspected, the application, which has been successfully field tested, needs a short while to calibrate to the environment. Once that’s done, all you need to do is wave the phone in the air as if painting a grid measuring a maximum of 30 cm by 30 cm, no further than 30 cm away from the potential threat source (the distance can be increased with an outstretched arm - or with a stick, for that matter).
The app connects to a cloud-based server and compares the recorded magnetic disturbance signature with other signatures in the database. If a threat is detected, the app returns a warning message and identifies the likelihood of there being a certain type of explosive material in the sampled area. GPS connectivity is used to pinpoint the site and to immediately alert the authorities. The threat alert message can also be automatically pushed to social networks.
“We do not intend for SAPER to replace mine detection devices, but only to provide additional help when none are available”, says Mariusz Chmielewski, the mentor of the student team behind the app.
A Polish entry to Microsoft’s Imagine Cup competition, the application has been developed exclusively for the Windows Phone operating system, but it is to be made available on other platforms shortly. Other planned developments include an external wireless magnetometer that will allow for the remote detection distance to be increased to one meter (3.28 feet).
The team also plans to explore the possibilities of using the magnetometer to track other kinds of magnetic field disturbances, with potential uses including the detection of wires within a wall and pinpointing foreign objects in the human body. Meanwhile, see the Imagine Cup entry video below for more details about the current version of SAPER.