Robot dogs can replace canines at airports

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The German shepherds, Labradors or Belgian Malinois’ used by Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) in airport security could soon be a thing of past as they now have competition from a factory-built dog.

These industrial canines can sniff explosives at the airports as well as X-ray scan the luggage of passengers with their eyes, according to officials familiar with technology programs of CISF.

The use of “robotic canines” came up in discussions at the Global Aviation Security Symposium 2018 held at Montreal, Canada this month attended by CISF DG Rajesh Ranjan and additional DG M A Ganapathy, also in-charge of aviation security at airports across India.

Currently, robots can be found at the airports of several developed countries like the UK, the US, Canada, Japan, Korea etc for various purposes including passenger information and security checks.

Officials said CISF attended the global aviation symposium organised by International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) for the first time last week and had fruitful bilateral discussions with European Union nations and other ICAO members. “We already have a tie-up with Transport Security Administration (TSA) of the United States but now we have a capacity building pact with the EU as well, which will help us explore a lot about new technologies and methods of securing our airports,” said an officer.

Apart from robot canines, use of CT scan based screening of hand-luggage, cabin baggage, artificial intelligence, state-of-the-art explosive detectors and biometric control access were also discussed at the meetings.

Indian agencies largely depend a lot on manpower for the security checks but CISF, wants to adapt new technologies considering the global threat to the aviation sector, increasing air travels and new methods of smuggling drugs, gold, explosives etc via air.

South Asia’s largest aviation security force, CISF guards 61 airports across the country and has already started biometrics system at some airports and it is testing full body scanners. The force also guards Delhi Metro, space and nuclear installations, sensitive government buildings and oil and natural gas facilities and has been rated one of the best in providing industrial security.

An official pointed out that the points discussed at the ICAO symposium are usually binding on the member countries, which means CISF will have to continue its efforts to adopt technologies in coming years.

In the two-day symposium, the civil aviation security experts from various countries discussed the need of effective risk awareness, robust application of enhanced security measures in the wake of emerging threats and the need for establishment of a stronger aviation security oversight regime capacity building through training of human resources etc.

The aviation experts also deliberated upon the need for risk-based approach to aviation security.

CISF spokesperson Hemendra Singh said that GASeP (Global Aviation Security Plan), a future aviation security policy and programme framework, introduced by ICAO was also deliberated upon in the symposium.

CISF also offered its expertise in protecting critical infrastructure including those in the aviation sector from the perspective of both anti-hijacking and anti-terrorism to the other countries through an enhanced participation in workshops and panel discussions organised by ICAO, he said.

Robots are already tasked with functions like conducting security checks or offering passenger information at airports in Japan, South Korea, Canada and the United States, among others.

However, researchers in the United States are going beyond the scope of robotic dogs. Earlier this year, Hiroaki Matsunami, a Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Duke University, was the senior author on a paper about developing an artificial nose that could replace sniffer dogs.

“Duke researchers recently published a paper in which they used mouse genes to grow odour receptors that could respond to specific odours. If this could be developed into a device, the electronic nose might be able to detect some of the odours that dogs are searching for—such as cocaine or explosives,” says this Duke University report.

However, there is still some way to go before a functional and successful prototype of this product exists. In the event that happens, these dogs must find a home through the adoption process.

Besides the use of robot canines, there was also talk of employing CT scan-based screening of cabin baggage, hand luggage, the latest technology in explosive detectors and biometric control access, among others, at the Global Aviation Security Symposium.

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