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Microwaves may hold key to gun detection

Published: 19th May 2006

ENGINEERS at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) are leading a new push to develop technologies which can detect if a criminal is carrying a gun.

Experiments carried out at MMU’s John Dalton Research Institute have shown that concealed gun-like objects can be identified from distance by using microwaves and millimetre waves.

Now further research is being funded by the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police in a bid to find practical solutions to the rise of gun crime on Britain’s streets, and to help minimise danger to police and the public.

Hand-held detector

A consortium led by MMU was recently awarded £540,000 to prove the case for a hand-held detector capable of remotely and discretely sensing whether a person is carrying a gun or not.

Dr Nick Bowring, from MMU’s Department of Engineering and Technology and principle investigator for the two-year project, said: “At present the only way to detect metal is to get a person to walk through an x-ray or other portal.

"We are trying to see if it is possible to aim electromagnetic waves (EM) at a person from distance to achieve the same result with a useful level of accuracy."

Dr Bowring says that EM and ultrasound behave in differing manners when striking particular objects, in a principle he calls ‘diffuse reflection’. Gun reflections, he says, behave differently from other metal and could not be confused with other commonly-held objects such as phones, music players and pens.

Wave behaviour

"Just as when blowing air over a hollow cylinder produces a ‘musical’ note, you can blowing micro and other waves over the barrel of a gun to get a particular resonance.

"We can also discern the shape of the object by the way waves respond to cavities and crevices."

The team aim to combine microwaves, millimetre waves, ultrasound and radio waves to find the optimum ‘detection wave’ and also will test variations in responses of the waves passing through different items of clothing (potentially used to conceal a weapon).

Tests encouraging

Tests to date have identified gun-shaped metal objects from a distance of 5 metres but Dr Bowring believes the technology could be effective at longer "standoff" distances. The aim would be to make a portable, deployable sensor that would be useful to the police on the streets.

"Being able to say a person is concealing a sizeable metal object, and that it has the characteristics of a gun or rifle may be extremely useful to the police and security services and may help prevent a serious crime."

The project is one of four being funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s IDEAS Factory - Gun Crime: Taking the Heat Off the Streets.

Professor Dick Lacey from the Home Office Scientific Development Branch visited MMU in March to see the work first hand.


* The consortium comprises MMU, Manchester University, the University of Huddersfield and Queen Mary University London.

Dr Nick Bowring is a senior lecturer in MMU’s Department of Engineering & Technology, a national leader in research into advanced signal processing, railway track design, statistical process control, vehicle dynamics and fluid dynamics.

Manchester Metropolitan University is one of the largest universities in the UK with a reputation for excellence in teaching, applied research and working with its communities in Greater Manchester, Cheshire and the North West region.

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