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The image of someone walking around with a backpack, listening to music via headphones while playing on a cell phone, has become so common that it would never seem out of place except to the most tech-removed person.

Even if that person happened to instead be monitoring the crowd for possible terror threats.

And that’s just how the Department of Homeland Security likes it.

The department recently awarded a grant to faculty from two College of Engineering departments who are collaborating to develop a portable nuclear or radiation detector that could be used without causing alarm to the public or alerting possible terror cells.

Jason Hayward, UCOR Fellow and associate professor in nuclear engineering, and Hairong Qi, Gonzalez Family Endowed Professor of Computer Science, won a $1.75 million grant from the department to develop the next generation of portable detectors.

“The idea of having such a device in backpack size that is capable of not only detecting such threats but of tracking them as well appealed to Homeland Security,” said Hayward. “I saw the research that Professor Qi was doing with computer vision, and we pooled our thoughts to come up with the proposal.”

The idea of a wearable device is not a new one, but having one with built-in intelligence—a Wearable Intelligent Nuclear Detection, or WIND, device—is an advancement that requires a leap forward in detection technology.

Hayward said that present models of mobile detection involve a combination of trailer-sized devices and the current generation of backpack devices.

The problem is that the trailers are the more advanced devices, but they aren’t portable.

“You can’t drive a trailer through a building or through stands at a stadium,” said Hayward. “They are great at doing their job, but to really be able to get into a crowd or move around a building you have to make them much smaller, much more portable.”

With Hayward zeroing in on the detection device, Qi’s work will be on developing the tracking and the monitoring.

Eventually they’d like to develop a way for agents to monitor the situation on their smartphones, helping detection become even more discreet.

Hayward said that the testing and design phase will likely last a few years, with working prototypes and field testing starting in year three.

The final product should cost in the neighborhood of $10,000.



David Goddard (865-974-0683,