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April 19, 2006

Darpa Working On Scent Analyzers To Sniff Out Bad Guys

Not sure what the hell to make out of this:

The Pentagon's fringe science arm wants to keep track of potential enemies-of-the-state in every way imaginable: not just by sight, or by sound, or by their e-mail; but by their smell, as well.

Darpa's "Unique Signature Detection Project (formerly known as the Odortype Detection program)" aims to sniff out genetic markers in "human emanations (urine, sweat, etc.)" that "can be used to identify and distinguish specific high-level-of-interest individuals within groups of enemy troops."

"Recent experimental results" show that chemical compounds in a mouse's "urinary" scent produces an "odortype" that's unique to each individual rodent, Darpa observes in its original solicitation for the project. "Although experimental data for humans is far less quantitative," the agency is hoping that a similarly "genetically determined," "exploitable chemosignal" can be found in people, too.

Is anyone buying this?

...

Darpa's smell detector is part of a larger, $15 million-per-year effort to develop "novel sensors" for U.S. troop operating in "urban settings." The goal of the Urban Vision program is "to enable the warfighter to 'see' movers within a building using a variety of fused multi-spectral techniques." The "Enemy Dismount Intrusion Detection program," on the other hand, "will develop a chemical sensor that is capable of providing an advanced warning of the presence of enemy troops or combatants by detecting the chemical emissions... that are common to all humans."

That sounds a little more realistic, I guess, but also a lot less useful. I can't imagine that such a system would be much more effective than, you know, listening.

I wonder if a less ambitious version of the system could just sniff out the chemcials produced when a human is fearful, stressed, or ready to attack -- whatever scents are produced along with adrenaline. That could be useful in airports and military checkpoints and even just randomly sniffing out potential threats.

Of course, usually people behave in a jumpy or worrisome manner when they're nervous or planning to attack, so the human eyes are probably just as good at such a task already as a scent detector would ever be. But then, we carefully instruct our airport security personnel and even cops to studiously ignore any such signs -- hey, such vague signals might just be subconscious racial profiling! -- so maybe a scientifically-determined flashing red light is necessary.


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posted by Ace at 12:55 PM

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