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Cambridge Sensoriis pioneers portable anti-terrorist radar to detect concealed weapons and bombs

A start-up that is pioneering the use of radar to detect concealed weapons and bombs aims to have a product ready to market within a year.

Cambridge Sensoriis is developing portable, lightweight radar systems that can screen travellers as they move through transport hubs.

The FORSAW system – Free-flow and Rapid Standoff security-screening for All Weapons – utilises the same radar technology that the company has developed to aid the navigation of autonomous drones and vehicles.

Steve Clark, CEO of Cambridge Sensoriis with their Free-flow and Rapid Standoff security-screening for All Weapons (FORSAW) system. Picture: Keith Heppell
Steve Clark, CEO of Cambridge Sensoriis with their Free-flow and Rapid Standoff security-screening for All Weapons (FORSAW) system. Picture: Keith Heppell

The company has been awarded a £50,000 grant by government research and innovation agency Innovate UK to progress the anti-terrorist radar technology. Initially, the company is focusing on using it at railway stations in India, where thousands of people can pass through terminals in minutes.

But it could be used in many areas with large numbers of people, such as stadiums and arenas, places of worship, hotels and conference centres, and could help tackle the horror of school shootings in the US.

Steve Clark, CEO of Cambridge Sensoriis, told the Cambridge Independent: “There were bombings in Mumbai in 2008, with terrorists in a marauding attack at one of the railway stations with machine guns. Our technology would have detected them long before they got to the station.”

The system would be installed above entrances, scanning those approaching a site, unlike metal detection units.

“The problem with current technology is it creates queues of people waiting to be scanned, which themselves create a target, and also they are right within the railway station by then, so that is too late. You want to detect this before they get to the site,” explained Steve.

There have been previous efforts to use radar to screen for concealed weapons and bombs, but the technology has proved too large, complex or expensive to work.

Cambridge Sensoriis’ small system was developed for drone and autonomous vehicle navigation, but is capable of solving these challenges, as it can detect threats at 50 metres and screen hundreds of passengers every minute.

“We were part of the UKRI Future of Flight programme phase two and were in a consortium that included the satellite applications catapult and Malloy Aeronautics,” explained Steve.

“We ran trials of our radars on their drones for detecting and avoiding in-flight. Being part of the Future of Flight ecosystem was great, because we got to know lots of other UK SMEs and large companies too. We got to talk to the CAA and regulators. We ran flight trials and that programme has ended. We were shortlisted on several phase three projects.

Cambridge Sensoriis’ technology is small and portable
Cambridge Sensoriis’ technology is small and portable

“We wanted to look for other markets where our underlying capability to design radar and process data could be applied. There was a piece of work to improve the efficiency of railway stations in India and make them more pleasant places to be, without such big queues.” An Innovate UK grant of £50,000 helped Cambridge Sensoriis – which has just moved from Cambourne Business Park to Bourn – to carry out the feasibility study and outline design for the work in India.

“We’re very proud to have been chosen to lead this important and highly innovative project,” said Steve. “If our unique technology can make travellers safer as they go about their lives, and reduce the terrorist threat, that would be a wonderful legacy. We’re hoping our work could ultimately benefit millions of people.”

While the underlying chips are off the shelf, Cambridge Sensoriis brings specialist expertise to the system.

“There are two things we do: the design of the antennae and the data processing to get coverage and update rates that you need,” explained Steve.

“The underlying capabilities came from the designs we did for the Future of Flight work, but we have extended and adjusted those. For concealed threat detection, you are looking beneath clothing at a maximum of 50 metres or so. It’s a different problem from the Future of Flight work, in which you want to detect small objects as far away as you can.”

Radar overcomes concerns over health and privacy too.

It can track individuals as they move and its signals easily pass through layers of clothing to detect concealed objects, but reflects harmlessly offer the body and gathers no intimate imagery.

“Radar is very, small low-powered device - lower-powered than a phone, although they work on a different frequency,” explained Steve,

“The underlying radar technology is widely used in the automotive industry for automatic emergency braking on cars - a longer range in that case and with more power.

“While some systems are designed to image the body and there is concern about body shape privacy, especially in certain countries, this system doesn’t do that.

“It looks at the way the radar signal bounces off a person and gets returned back and interprets that - it doesn’t create an image.”

Steve, left the Australia Centre for Field Robotics in 1999 after completing his PhD, and then co-founded Navtech Radar in Oxfordshire, which focuses on safety solutions, before exiting in 2017.

Steve Clark at the CW 5G Testbed Accelerator 2 Demo Day. Picture: Keith Heppell
Steve Clark at the CW 5G Testbed Accelerator 2 Demo Day. Picture: Keith Heppell

“We made ground-based radar for detecting intruders into airports, automating industrial machines like bulk loaders in docks for people like Rio Tinto and we designed the radar stopped vehicle detection system for smart highways in the UK, for what was the Highways Agency, now National Highways. I saw them installed on the M25 in Hindhead Tunnel and places like that,” recalled Steve,

After a spell as a CTO elsewhere, Steve launched Cambridge Sensoriis amid lockdown in May 2020 and the team is now four-strong.

“Radars can be much smaller, lighter and lower power now, so I saw an opportunity to deploy them onto drones, which was an area I hadn’t worked on before,” he said, adding that the achievements to date are down to “recruiting the best people and collaborating with others in the Cambridge area”.

He added: “We’ve worked with people from Cambridge Wireless and we are working with universities to design and test the antennae array of these radars.

“We’ve had testing programmes at NPL in London, and I’ve worked in radar for 25 years. I can’t do it all, but I know what we need to bring together to create a world-class team to design these radar systems.”

While the system works with standard networks, new high speed 5G connectivity could also be used to analyse the data from the system, enabling rapid identification of threats.

A study by Insight Partners suggests the global security screening market will grow from $9.4bn in 2021 to $13.6bn by 2027.

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