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The EU Is Building An Internet Of Sewers To Detect Bombs

The EU Is Building An Internet Of Sewers To Detect Bombs
[Top photo: Flickr user Bill Smith]

You should never pour bacon fat down the drain. Or bomb-making materials. But a new coalition of European Union technologists is after bomb materials, and it plans to find them with a network of special sewer sensors, according to a BBC report published earlier this week.

The Swedish Defense Research Agency is leading the charge on a project called Emphasis that will implant electrodes in city sewage to detect discarded bomb-making chemicals. Its researchers have even created a fake bomb-making lab to see how certain materials might go down the pipes.

Flickr user Sergio Calleja

Henric Oestmark is the research director of energetic materials–or, as he puts it, anything that goes bang.

“We want to test it as realistically as possible,” he says.

“If you have a normal lab, you have very clean air, for example. You need to simulate what is happening in real life if you are going to find a bomb factory.”

Most homemade bombs are hydrogen peroxide or fertiliser-based, he says.

“They have chemicals you buy in a normal supermarket, and they are using them to make bombs.”

This is fascinating work, especially considering the myriad weird ingredients found in human wastewater, not limited to caffeine, anti-anxiety meds, and cocaine. But at the same time I have to wonder: Couldn’t bomb-makers dispose of their ingredients elsewhere, especially if they know that the sewers trigger notifications sent to the police?

There are, of course, plus sides to making more of our objects speak to one another. We can gain mass insight, find hidden patterns, and maybe make our cities more efficient. But if everything connects to the Internet of Things, ostensibly the smart bad guys will find other ways to stay offline. If we rely on Big Data to find them, we should also be staying alert for analog clues.

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