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Sunday, February 5th, 2023

DARPA plans to build sensors, networks to detect CBRNE threats in real time

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The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced plans on Tuesday to develop new sensors and networks that are capable of detecting chemical, biological and explosives threats in real time, which will alert authorities immediately.

DARPA’s SIGMA program currently detects radiological and nuclear materials. However, emerging technologies like 3D printing, small-scale chemical reactors for pharmaceuticals and gene manipulation tools have created new national security challenges.

To address those emerging threats, DARPA seeks to expand the SIGMA program, which will be referred to as SIGMA+. Plans call for sensors and networks to be developed to detect chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and high-yield explosive (CBRNE) weapons of mass destruction in small quantities and forms that are difficult to detect.

“The goal of SIGMA+ is to develop and demonstrate a real-time, persistent CBRNE early detection system by leveraging advances in sensing, data fusion, analytics and social and behavioral modeling to address a spectrum of threats,” Vincent Tang, SIGMA+ program manager in DARPA’s Defense Sciences Office, said. “To achieve this, we’ve pulled together a team of DARPA program managers who bring expertise in chemistry, biology, data analytics, and social science to address the broad and complex CBRNE space.”

The program will rely on sensitive detectors and advanced intelligence analytics to detect trace levels of substances that could be used in weapons of mass destruction. The SIGMA+ network will also be scalable to cover large metropolitan areas.

“If successful, SIGMA+ will demonstrate that automated, distributed networks of sensors, combined with automated intelligence analytics and insights from social science, can be deployed and practically scaled to significantly increase the probability of interdicting CBRNE WMD attacks,” Tang said.

SIGMA+ sensors will also be capable of detecting biological threats like anthrax, smallpox or plague viruses in real time by providing continuous monitoring of pathogen background levels. And new environmental and biochemical sensing methods could make the system 10 times more sensitive.