Human Practice

Possible applications of the Sniffer-O-Meter!

The Royal Dutch Military Police regarding a detector of explosives.

Every day, 1800 member of the Royal Dutch Military Police are present at Schiphol to detect possible threats to the National Security. One part of their job is to be on the lookout for explosives. This is where smell plays an important part! Explosives are usually detected by Explo-dogs, dogs which have been trained to detect the scent associated with explosives.

An Explo-Dog is being trained to detect 14 different types of smells, which for security reasons will not be mentioned, in different combinations. The largest amount of explosives are covered by this intensive training after which they will work together with a canine trainer of the Military Police, such as Rick van Vulpen who spoke to us on this matter.

A Sniffer-O-Meter could be made to smell these same 14 volatiles and to give a signal dependent on what combination of volatiles is detected. The Snifferomyces is designed to be a general platform for any possible smell, smelling explosives is only one of the possible applications. The Sniffer-O-Meter could be redesigned to be carried around or to stay at a central position, like a fire detector.

"Micro-organisms and GMOs would definitely be used if it would improve the National Security."
The most important feature should be a very low number of false positives. It is a waste when the team responds to a false alarm, this costs a lot of time and money. Genetic modification is a new, important technology which, when whithin certain safety standards should definitely be used. At the moment we are experimenting with a chemical 'Nose', but this technology also responds to coca-cola, which has caused a lot of false alarms. In the lab a small error rate might be seen as acceptable, but in the field this is less so.

On the job, dog and trainer work together as coworkers. And even though canine is trained to smell, his secundary role is to give a secure feeling to the crowd at an airport and the trainer. Of course this role would never be replaced by micro-organisms, although they could prove to become a solid addition to the general equipment.

We would like to thank Rick van Vulpen for a nice chat on this subject!
The picture is from "Safety and Security", October 2012, a supplement of the Telegraaf.