Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

RFID sensor technology can help protect shipyards from terrorism

Steve Rogerson
February 18, 2015
Technology developed by GE Global Research for detecting hazardous chemicals or those used in explosives could provide extra security for the global shipping industry.
The sensor technology comes from New York-based GE, in partnership with the Technical Support Working Group (TSWG), a US interagency programme for research and development into counter-terrorism measures, and Quantum Magnetics, a subsidiary of Morpho Detection. Also on board is KemSense, a subsidiary of Vener8 Technologies, which has developed a sensor based on GE’s RFID technology. The RFID sensors can wirelessly detect and quantify chemicals of interest, at low concentrations, in the presence of multiple interferences, without adding to their complexity, size or cost.
The sensors have been developed in the form of battery-free RFID tags coated with a sensing material that responds to explosives and oxidisers. The penny-sized tags can be deployed on a variety of surfaces. If placed on the outside of a shipping container, for example, and the presence of a dangerous explosive or oxidiser is detected in the air, the sensing material will change its electronic properties and will trigger the RFID tag to send an alert to a mobile phone-sized reader.
“GE’s sensors could dramatically increase the accuracy and improve the limits of detection of dangerous chemical threats,” said Radislav Potyrailo, a principal scientist at GE Global Research and principal investigator on the project. “Fast and accurate chemical detection and quantitation are vital to help ensuring the safety of cargo that passes through our nation’s ports.”
The sensors can also be used in airport settings as part of fixed or mobile security. Moreover, sensor networks can be connected to a central station, offering real-time, cost-effective and continuous monitoring.
“In airports today, bulky, stationary desktop systems typically screen for explosives,” said Potyrailo. “Suspicious surfaces are swabbed and separately analysed, consuming substantial time, space and power. Compared to a conventional desktop detector, our system is 300 times smaller, and reduces weight and power use 100 fold. To achieve needed accuracy, GE’s approach simplifies detection by using an individual sensor rather than relying on arrays of multiple sensors.”
The development of sensors that can detect ultra-trace levelsof chemicals could also benefit industries outside security. For instance, they could be used to detect minute gas leaks, aging and degradation of electrical isolation, and bacteria and mould spore growth in residential and industrial buildings. In the healthcare space, these sensors could be used to ensure that surfaces have been sanitised properly.
“GE has created a high-sensitivity power-free, wireless sensor whose real-time measurement of chemical and biological properties has huge upside for the healthcare, natural resource, agriculture and consumer sectors,” said Anton Simunovic, CEO of Connecticut-based KemSense.
GE expects production costs for these sensors to range from five to 50 cents per sensor, depending on their performance specifications and fabrication volume.
Working with Morpho Detection, the GE Global Research team previously demonstrated the capabilities of wireless sensors for detection of toxic and dangerous chemicals for security applications. And working with Avery Dennison’s RFID division, the team has previously demonstrated roll-to-roll fabrication of developed sensors on a flexible substrate.