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Sensor to detect fear pheromone

A device that can ‘smell’ human fear could identify terrorists during routine security checks at airports and high-profile events.

The technology is the subject of a study being undertaken by City University London with support from the Home Office Scientific Development Branch.

Led by Prof Tong Sun, the 18-month project aims to develop two sensor systems that can detect the unique chemical signature of the fear pheromone, assessing the stress of an individual and interpreting it in security-critical contexts. The first device will be based on laser absorption while a further area of research will look at the development of a portable optical-fibre device.

Sun said: ‘The challenge lies in the characterisation and identification of the specific chemical that gives away the signature of human fear, especially the fear in relation to criminal acts.

‘There are reports about the correlation between human “fear” and pheromone, however, there is no such detector available yet.’

According to Sun, the new technology could help UK law enforcement agencies identify abnormal behaviour at events such as the London Olympics, where visual and acoustics cues are restricted.

The project will look at potential obstacles to the device, such as the affects of perfume and the variances in pheromone production.

While much of the work is still theoretical, Sun predicts that if the feasibility study is successful, then the development of ‘smell’ detectors could take place within the next two to three years.

She added: ‘I do not see any particular reason why similar sensor techniques cannot be expanded to identify human smells by race, age or gender to build a profile of a criminal during or after an incident.’

Readers' comments (4)

  • I'm afraid of flying. My 'fear' response is going to be high as I approach airport security. Knowing this, I'm going to be terrified that they think I'm a terrorist, driving my fear response higher. It's all very well developing a machine that can measure my fear but interpreting its cause and concluding whether or not I'm a threat due to my fear is going to be open to huge abuse. How do I defend myself in court when accused of "being afraid with intent"?

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  • Someone about to do something, let's say anti-social (do you get my drift) is committed , and doesn't get scared.

    Quite the opposite, they may have problems hiding their latent aggression!

    Taking one item in isolation and using this to promote something is getting to be a chronic disease!

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  • As we live in a fear-based system, the one's that aren't scared (of terrorism, viruses, losing job ... you name it) are potentially harder to control and thus dangerous to that system. If I was the government, I'd rather pick those and force-vaccinate them against fearlessness.

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  • I have to say that this sort of thing worries me; in particular one part of the story itself
    ''I do not see any particular reason why similar sensor techniques cannot be expanded to identify human smells by race, age or gender to build a profile of a criminal during or after an incident.’'
    isnt this comment rather racist in a way? how can you build a profile of a criminal by race, smell, gender etc isnt this going down the same road as only the guilty need worry? i think not, this isn't going to help stop crime or terrorism (the big bogeyman currently) this is just another thing to keep people in line with the old ''you will do as we say'' type of thing, don't get me wrong i love technology, but when people start building and designing things like this i start to worry. Our so called democratic governments have turned the tables on us, we are supposed to be in control of them, not the other way around, with things like this they control us like sheep. I may sound like a conspiricy nut, but when i read things like this, i realise i don't sound like a nut anymore.

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