How technology is helping to make us safer

Posted on 16/06/2017

Innovation answering the need for increased security in a perilous world.

Technological innovations are answering the need for increased security in a world threatened by terrorism.

By Andy Powell

Certain events command the headlines and are aimed at creating widespread unrest. The people of Manchester, London, Paris, Mumbai and many other cities around the world that have been targeted by terrorism don’t need reminding of this.

But as news headlines become archived stories and some lives are irrevocably changed by these acts of extreme violence, what is the reality of the terrorism risk we may face every day, and what is being done to protect us?

The stated aim of the Home Office’s Counter Terrorism Strategy is to reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from terrorism, so that people can go about their lives freely and with confidence. That strategy is organised around four work streams, each organising a number of key objectives, summed up as the four ‘Ps’, and focused on tackling the causes as well as the results of terrorism:

Pursue: to stop terrorist attacks

Prevent: to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism

Protect: to strengthen our protection against a terrorist attack

Prepare: to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack

There is also the significant threat posed by cybersecurity breaches and, as our world becomes more dependent on digital technologies, there is a growing risk that terrorists, criminals or hostile states may penetrate defences to cause chaos in our digital world, where much of the business of trade, commerce and finance is carried out. For a more in-depth look at this area, see the KTN report Cybersecurity: challenges and opportunities for the UK, which identifies ten themes for cybersecurity that will grow over the next three to five years.

But while technology poses threats, it also promises solutions. With this in mind, the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) is working with a broad range of agencies in the sector, including the Home Office, Department for Transport, Ministry of Defence, the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure (CPNI), the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) and the Future Aviation Security Solutions (FASS) programme.

The Government is organising an industry engagement day on 21 June 2017 to present its security science, technology and innovation programmes and funding opportunities. KTN will be hosting a ‘collaboration corner’ throughout the day, facilitating dialogue between companies and helping them to find partners to drive innovation.

Recent funded programmes in the security area include a Defence and Security Accelerator competition to fund innovation in autonomous systems to assess scenes that are potentially contaminated with hazardous materials. These scenes hold significant safety risks to the first responders to an incident – typically the police, armed forces and emergency services. Detection, identification, monitoring and sample (DIMS) recovery capabilities are used during scene assessment to determine the nature and extent of the hazards present.

Technologies that remove the need to have a person in a potentially hazardous environment are very desirable, as they keep the responder safe as well as free to conduct other activities. Up to £1.5 million was available for the first phase of this competition which ran last year, with deliverables due in August 2017.

Qualifying projects will be funded into the second phase, encouraging collaboration between successfully funded projects at phase one. Winners in phase one included new technologies for chemical detection, using deep neural network-based autonomous exploration and mapping for hazardous scenes, building autonomous aquatic-aerial micro vehicles for disaster scene assessments, creating self-repairing neural controllers for autonomous chemical identification and 3D real-time mapping with near real-time delivery.

Also, working with the Department for Transport and the Home Office on the joint FASS programme, KTN is supporting the challenge to find new innovations that will deliver a radical change in aviation security. These new technologies will improve the ability to prevent the widest possible range of explosives, weapons and other threats being taken on board aircraft.

A range of ambitious and innovative projects are being funded in the first phase of this competition, and a number of the most successful will be funded through to phase two. Some of the phase one projects include the automatic detection and classification of liquids and large electronics in X-ray security, walk-through passenger screening, microwave spectroscopy for the identification of hidden threat materials and step-on shoe scanners that detect explosives and weapons by 3D sensing.

The nature of terrorist attacks – like the recent suicide bombing in Manchester and the marauding threat on the streets of London in the past few months – changes over time. Nonetheless, a significant number of attacks have been prevented through the combined work of the intelligence services, Border Force and counter-terrorism policing in designing out weak areas, improving training and new technology to provide improved detection of threats. As the related risks continue to accelerate, keeping all players in the industry are aware of the key moves and developments is high on KTN’s agenda.