DARPA Completes Deployment of Advanced Chemical and Biological Sensing System

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently completed a week-long deployment of advanced chemical and biological sensing systems in the Indianapolis metro region. It collected more than 250 hours of daily life background atmospheric data across five neighborhoods to help train algorithms to more accurately detect chemical and biological threats. This was the first time in the program the instruments were successfully deployed as mobile sensors.

“Spending a week gathering real-world background data from a major Midwestern metropolitan region was extremely valuable as we further develop our SIGMA+ sensors and networks to provide city and regional-scale coverage for chem and bio threat detection,” said Mark Wrobel, program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office. “Collecting chemical and biological environment data provided an enhanced understanding of the urban environment and is helping us make refinements of the threat-detection algorithms to minimize false positives and false negatives.”

The sensors were also used to detect benign controlled chemical releases that could be representative of threat agent production processes. Five safe chemicals – one of them being acetone – were released and tracked by the sensor platforms during the week.

“We tested the ability of the sensors to distinguish between normal background chemical environment and small traces of specific chemicals such as acetone,” Wrobel said. “If a chemical sensor makes an acetone hit near a nail salon, the SIGMA+ data analytics can help authorities make a determination that it’s probably a benign use of the chemical. But if an anomalous concentration of acetone is picked up at a location with no logical connection to the chemical, it could indicate something worth investigating, since acetone is also a precursor ingredient for some types of explosives.”