Monday, May 9, 2011

A one-man backpack radar that can see through walls

As the Joker said in the first Batman movie, " Where does he get those incredible toys??!!??"

Technology and the innovative use of it is the one advantage we have right now...Just like the new High-tech helicopter they used when they went in after Bin Laden, it provides us with a strategic edge over the bad guys.... I'm glad we are the ones with the kit as the bad guys come out on the short end of the equation, and I'm all good with that......

Backpack radar technology enables surveillance through walls
Significant interest in device expected in United States

By Joel Brown
Boston Globe Correspondent / May 9, 2011

There’s a new tool available for soldiers, special forces, and police officers who must surprise a high-value terrorist or enact a hostage rescue: a one-man backpack radar that can see through walls.

The radar technology is a few years old, but the device — the Prism 200c system from Cambridge Consultants — fits into a small pack and weighs less than 15 pounds. It provides data on the location and movement of people inside a room or building on a handheld device, meaning only a single operator is needed. That’s a big advantage in the field; previous systems were heavier and required a second person with a laptop computer to receive the data. The new system also offers improved battery life.

The company that makes it is headquartered in Cambridge, England, but has a second office in Cambridge, Mass., and expects significant interest in the Prism in the United States.

“We’ve had a number of phone calls about it here,’’ said Wayne Booker, the company’s vice president of government systems, who works in the Kendall Square office. “We’ve had systems in the country already, but . . . I can’t really tell you where they are.’’

Confidentiality is a key concern; the company does up to 10 percent of its business with special forces and law enforcement. “It’s fair to say we are normally very, very shy about talking about the work we do’’ in those areas, said Hugh Burchett, director of defense and security business, speaking by phone from Britain.

The bulk of the 50-year-old technology development firm’s business is in wireless and medical technology, and it was to serve the latter field that it opened its US office in 2005. The company was attracted to Boston by medical technology firms as well as its hospitals, along with the rich talent pool provided by area universities, Booker said. Cambridge Consultants employs about 30 in its Massachusetts offices; the company is a fully owned subsidiary of Altran, the European consulting giant.

To operate the Prism 200c, an individual stands with his or her back against a brick, wood, block, or concrete wall; the device can’t peer through steel.

The radar delivers a detailed image of the location and movements of people on the other side, even in a cluttered environment. Radar signals from a single transmitter bounce back to four built-in receivers, and the system creates a clear, three-dimensional image.

“It’s just a great example of the private sector contributing to national security and national defense in new and exciting ways,’’ said James J.F. Forest, former director of terrorism studies at the United States Military Academy, and an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he teaches courses on terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, and security studies.
The advances in the Prism 200c will make it more field-adaptable and easier to deploy, he added.

“I think it’s going to be especially useful for hostage situations or kidnappings,’’ Forest said. “In terms of counterterrorism, there are situations when you may suspect a bomb is being built or weapons are being assembled or stored in a particular location, and being able to gather that kind of intelligence without having to break down a door and look for it, that’s very handy as well.’’

Cambridge Consultants has also just unveiled a prototype of an even smaller radar device called the Sprint, which can be swiped over walls or floors to reveal what’s inside them. More than a fancy stud-finder, it could be used to detect hidden explosives, or reveal the location of utilities such as gas pipes.

“Special forces operators, sometimes when they go through a building, they don’t use the door,’’ Burchett noted.

The products offer a relatively rare chance to promote the company’s expertise publicly, since much of its other work is confidential.

Joel Brown can be reached at

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