Electromagnetic border tech disrupts human trafficking

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Technology that detects the unique electromagnetic signal of humans is being deployed at borders in Europe to prevent human trafficking.

(Credit: Leonardo)

Developed by the Cyber Division of aerospace company Leonardo, the non-attached sensor creates an electromagnetic field (EMF) that vehicles are able to freely pass through. The sensor’s algorithm then searches for the particular EMF signature associated with humans.

According to Nigel Lidster from Leonardo UK’s Bristol-based Cyber Business, the technology sets a new standard for border detection and has the potential to prevent a repeat of some of the recent mass tragedies that have occurred in Europe due to the trafficking of people.

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“We think this technology could help save more lives, as vulnerable people looking for a better life are being led into very dangerous conditions,” said Lidster. “We want to offer non-invasive technology that can prevent future tragedies from unfolding.

“We discovered a technology that creates an electromagnetic field. Humans naturally have an electromagnetic signature. The algorithm just looks for a range of EMF associated with humans.”

While developing the solution, Leonardo explored various methods of detection, including technologies that are X-ray based, CO2-based, heartbeat-based, and movement/tremor-based. Groups of migrants that are trafficked may include pregnant women, children and people with health conditions, so the technology used for detection had to be non-invasive and not pose any risk to those being concealed.

“The technology has to be passive and non-invasive to ensure no risk of injury or harm to the health of the persons,” said Lidster. “The same principle also has to apply to the operators of the technology, no health risk to the operators.”

As traffickers use a range of vehicles to transport people across borders, such as soft curtained HGVs, refrigerated trucks, and ISO containers, the technology had to be able to overcome these problems, as well as be able to detect the signature of humans who might be travelling amongst livestock.

“In creating the electromagnetic field the technology uses a wavelength which penetrates metal or concrete obstructions which is completely harmless both to the operator and anybody detected by the system,” Lidster explained.

According to Leonardo, the EMF technology is already in place at four borders across Europe and has the potential to be used in the UK.