An Optical Sensor Platform for Detection of Explosive Remnants of War

Impact: Economic, Commercial Impact, Health and Welfare Impact

Description of impact

Humanitarian demining releases land back to locals for farming, trade and communication. The potential impact therefore lies mainly across public health and economy. Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) are also a major global threat both in conflict zones and in countries at peace. IEDs are becoming more sophisticated in design and deployment, and will continue to be used to inflict civilian casualties in the foreseeable future. New sensing technologies are required to detect and locate these devices, and to help understand the timeline of a terrorist plot.
Following the positively-received EPSRC IAA funded activities undertaken during 2016 and 2017 for our development of explosive vapour sensors for landmine detection, a good opportunity now presents itself to adapt our work for IED detection. By assessing and developing routes to deployment for our optical sensor technology in Counter-IED detection, we can make a technological and methodological impact in this field.

Who is affected

The ultimate beneficiaries are expected to be humanitarian deminers and landmine-afflicted people. Aside from this, the commercialisation of this instrument would create and safeguard local jobs in manufacturing, export and R&D.The system may also have strong applicability in other areas, such as airports, ports, and other security-sensitive markets. For instance, removal of landmines also reduces potential terrorist access to explosive materials. The global impact is therefore potentially high, with a large pool of end-users and market opportunity.


A portable, low-cost, modular optical sensor system potentially suitable for use in the field for landmine detection has been developed based on initial work conducted under the EPSRC HYPIX project EP/F059922/1. The system is currently around the TRL 5 level, with the technology successfully demonstrated in the laboratory detecting buried explosives. The organic semiconductor sensor films have separately been used in initial sensor tests for minefield area reduction, in conjunction with remote explosives scent tracing (REST) filters. In the REST process, air is sampled from a suspected site and any explosive particles / vapours present are adsorbed to the filter surface. The stored explosive molecules are later exposed to the sensor film by a lab-based apparatus. The filter is heated to release the vapours, which are directed towards the film by means of a gate valve and fan, and detected as a luminescence quenching sensor response. In this project we intend to integrate this method with the existing prototype to allow the REST process to be used on-site. The Croatian Mine Action Centre (CROMAC-CTDT) have requested that we field trial in their test sites in Benkovac and/or Cerovac. MECHEM ltd (South Africa), are enthusiastic to collaborate after initial tests to supply collection filters and provide technical help. We are engaging with the Belgian Royal Military Academy who plan to establish in 2016 the European Counter Explosive Hazards Centre of Excellence (EC-EH COE) for end-user engagement and best-practice guidance.Presentation of research to MPs at SET for Britain event in House of Parliament – several MPs engaged with the poster exhibit. (7th March 2016)The MP for Fife, Stephen Gethins, subsequently visited our labs with the attendant publicity and raising of awareness level (8th April 2016). Stephen Gethins subsequently highlighted the work to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon during her visit to St Andrews on 11th May 2017.Mine Action 2016 conference in Croatia – engagement with end-users and fellow anti-ERW researchers, and a short field trial was conducted at the Benkovac test site (25-29th April 2016). This allowed the collection of explosive vapours from a “real-world” source to test with the upgraded protocol at St Andrews.Invited visit to TNO in Netherlands. TNO are a Dutch institute that advise government on, and assess technology for, humanitarian and military demining. The meeting was focussed on future potential for collaboration and instrument validation, with advice on taking the technology to a higher TRL in the medium term. (17th May 2016)Field Trial, Benkovac, Croatia – several days on-site to detect landmines in real-time with promising results. (21st- 23rd September 2016)Organic Electronics Association – meeting in Frankfurt to participate in steering group for sensor technology. Explosives detection was agreed to be included in the forthcoming White Paper, which should influence key industry players, EU funders etc in future funding decisions in this field. (11th October 2016)Field Trial in Eksjö, Sweden (2nd February 2017). The Swedish EOD & Demining Centre (SWEDEC) invited us to visit their testing site to investigate swabbing suspect objects and post-detonation debris, in the context of IEDs, with our new materials. Initial results are promising, and SWEDEC are open to collaborating with us in the future either formally or informally. This trial and partnership increases our visibility, credibility and experience in Counter-IED technology.Mine Action 2017 (25th-27th April 2017) – Invited talk and panel participation on New Technologies for Mine Action. Networking, end-user engagement and research dissemination was undertaken.Invited speaker to the 15th IARP-RISE meeting at the International CBNRe Institute in Les Bon Villers, Belgium, 18th-19th May 2017. Audience included policymakers, end-users, law enforcement agencies, academics and industry in the counter-terrorism field.
Impact statusClosed
Category of impactEconomic, Commercial Impact, Health and Welfare Impact
Impact levelInvolvement - mid or active stage