DHS sharpens focus with 'Lobster Eye'

The Homeland Security Department is sponsoring the development of new Lobster Eye sensors that mimic the unique capabilities of their namesake crustaceans in detecting images through wood, concrete and steel.

The handheld Lobster Eye X-ray Imaging Devices (LEXIDs) can detect and identity humans and contraband in hidden compartments and through walls of various thicknesses and materials, according to DHS' Science and Technology Directorate.

'LEXID is still very developmental, but it has some tremendous potential,' said Jim Apple, the homeland security business development director at Physical Optics Corp., of Torrance, Calif., which built the technology.

Physical Optics developed the sensor through a Small Business Innovation Research grant.

Lobster eyes are made up of thousands of square channels that capture light by reflection, sending the signals to their tiny brains to form images. Their eyes can perceive even very small amounts of light, allowing them to see through dark, cloudy water. The sensor uses X-rays channeled in a similar way, penetrating solid objects and projecting images of what lies beyond them to the observer.

The directorate has set a goal of developing devices able to see through several inches of soil, steel, wood or concrete at distances as far as nine feet, according to an agency announcement.

'In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, tools to inspect hidden or closed compartments for contraband or security threats was a need specifically identified and conveyed to us,' said Gerry Kirwin, who manages the project for the directorate. 'Who'd have known we'd get our inspiration from lobsters?'

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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