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Technology Preview: Detecting Weapons with Radio Waves

First Responder Technologies is working on a system that uses WiFi to improve the security of public buildings.

David Griffith 2017 Headshot

Artist rendering of how the WiFi technology licensed by First Responder Technologies can detect concealed weapons. The company hopes to have a beta product by next summer.Artist rendering of how the WiFi technology licensed by First Responder Technologies can detect concealed weapons. The company hopes to have a beta product by next summer.Image: First Responder Technologies

In the wake of the El Paso and Dayton mass shootings, many American law enforcement officers and private security professionals are asking how these attacks can be prevented or at least mitigated. Canada's First Responder Technologies believes it may have the answer, a new way of detecting concealed firearms.

The new Concealed Weapon Detection Device being developed by First Responder uses WiFi signals to detect hidden threats. The technology was developed by researchers at Rutgers University in the School of Engineering's Wireless Information Network Laboratory. First Responder recently secured exclusive rights to commercialize the concept.

Robert Delamar, CEO of First Responder Technologies, says the Rutgers research is a "very impressive feat of engineering." He likens the technology to radar. The WiFi signal is transmitted around the area being protected and when it is reflected off of a suspicious object it can alert security personnel.

First Responder says there are advantages to using WiFi instead of millimeter wave technology currently in use at many of the nation's airports. The WiFi system uses a lower frequency for better penetration of clothes, cases, and packs; there is no need for an FCC operating license to use it; and there are no known health risks, the company says on its website.

The inventor of the WiFi weapon detection technology, Yingying (Jennifer) Chen, a professor at Rutgers, believes it's a "game changer" for the security profession. "The cost will be much lower than X-ray-based systems," she says on a First Responder Technologies' video. Because of the lower cost, Chen says more facilities will have better security. "Public safety could be significantly improved," she says.

The WiFi signals can be used to detect cans, laptops, batteries inside bombs, and liquids as well as guns. But Delamar says his company's primary focus at the moment is developing a practical tool for detecting guns in areas where they should not be, especially long guns.

He envisions the system augmenting other security measures at schools and other public buildings. The First Responder system would not require additional security personnel and it would not inconvenience the public. "It will produce a detection field that people can walk through," according to Delamar. "It could look like fence posts around the building, so it's relatively inconspicuous," he explains.

Delamar says the system uses WiFi points like the ones used for internet connectivity and three access points are sufficient for covering 20 meters (66 feet) of space.

First Responder is currently working with Rutgers and the Canadian engineering firm Misty West to develop a prototype, and Delamar says he believes the company will be able to demonstrate it soon. The next step after that is a beta product, which he believes will be available for testing in summer 2020.

"This is all about finding a way to create a better perimeter detection system," Delamar says. And he realizes the urgency for such a new security concept and what it could mean for law enforcement and the American public.

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"A mass shooter is intent on killing as many people as quickly as possible," he says. "If this technology can give law enforcement and security a 10-, 15-, or 30-second heads up, that can save a lot of lives."

In addition to developing the WiFi weapons detection technology for facility security, First Responder is working on a wearable WiFi weapon detection system for law enforcement. And the company is even working on a short lifespan pepper spray. As Delamar is quick to point out, the "technologies" is in the company's name for a reason. "It's plural because we are actually developing several technologies for first responders," he says.

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