IARPA awards Phase II of $10.7 million contract to remotely detect explosives, other toxic threats

MARLBOROUGH, Mass. Block MEMS/Engineering has been awarded Phase II of a contract with the Intelligence Advanced Research Programs Activity (IARPA) Program for the standoff detection of explosives and toxic chemical threats. IARPA chose Block for Phase II in a competitive down-selection process.

The program -- known as the "Standoff Illuminator for Measuring Absorbance and Reflectance Infrared Light Signatures" (SILMARILS -- is managed by the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Under the first phase of the project, Block successfully demonstrated the ability to detect trace quantities of explosives and other threats on multiple surfaces at one- and five-meter standoff distances in a few seconds. One critical part of Phase I, say Block officials, was been the development of a benchtop system based on quantum cascade lasers and an innovative chemical detection algorithm. The algorithm combines powerful data-processing ability, simulation of interactions between light and material, and modeling of anticipated detected signatures that serve to eliminate the effect of clutter, reduce false alarm rates, and extend detection limits.

Dr. Anish Goyal, Block's vice president of technology and principal investigator of the SILMARILS Program at Block,stated, "I am very pleased to receive the second Phase of the SILMARILS program. The achievements of the previous phase have taken a significant step towards the ultimate goal of the SILMARILS program to be able to detect explosives and other chemicals at standoff distances of 30 and 50 meters. The ability to not only detect chemical warfare agents (CWAs), but explosives and pharmaceutical-based agents (such as fentanyl) as well at these standoff distances is addressing a strong need within the intelligence community, the Defense Department, and the Department of Homeland Security."

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