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Cellphones Handhelds Technology

Cell Phones As a Dirty Bomb Detection Network 103

Posted by timothy
from the solidarity-brother dept.
First time accepted submitter iinventstuff writes "The Idaho National Laboratory has built a dirty bomb detection network out of cell phones. Camera phones operate by detecting photons and storing them as a picture. The INL discovered that high energy photons from radiological sources distort the image in ways detectable through image processing. KSL TV reports that the INL's mobile app detects radiation sources and then reports positive 'hits' to a central server. Terrorists deploying a dirty bomb will inevitably pass by people carrying cell phones. By crowdsourcing cell phones, the INL has created a potentially very large, inexpensive, and randomly mobile radiation detection grid."
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Cell Phones As a Dirty Bomb Detection Network

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 17, 2013 @06:51PM (#43758355)

    now with improved citizen tracking

    • by jrincayc (22260)

      TFA (KSL's) does say: "there are no plans to distribute the app to the general public."

      • yes. the plan is to require all camera's to take and upload a picture every minute to a NSA server, which will do the processing.

        None of this "opt-in" bullshit.

    • If it had been for helping the IRS to gather auditing info, then you'd be hollering on why it wasn't released earlier

  • Get'em guys! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog (752185) on Friday May 17, 2013 @06:52PM (#43758357) Homepage

    "Yep, that guy! Over there! Jump him, he's a terrorist!"

    "Who me? I just got my thyroid irradiated, give me a break."

    Talk about adding insult to injury.

  • by jrincayc (22260) on Friday May 17, 2013 @06:55PM (#43758377) Homepage

    Back in January 2008, slashdot user mike449 mentioned using the camera to do this: http://mobile.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=429956&cid=22180470 [slashdot.org]

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Back in January 2008, slashdot user mike449 mentioned using the camera to do this: http://mobile.slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=429956&cid=22180470 [slashdot.org]

      He should have patented the idea.

      • by jrincayc (22260) on Friday May 17, 2013 @07:20PM (#43758583) Homepage

        Too late: http://gammapix.com/corporate/about [gammapix.com] "The patent-protected GammaPix (TM) technology (U.S. Patent Nos. 7,391,028 and 7,737,410 plus foreign filings) has been under development since 2002 with over $2.5 million in government support." http://patft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?patentnumber=7391028 [uspto.gov] and patft1.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?patentnumber=7737410 were from applications filed on Feb. 28, 2005.

        • Thanks to jrincayc for the links. We've had GammaPix [gammapix.com] apps on Android for the past year and iOS for several months. Glad to see that INL is working on applications now, too. We also have demos with state police, first responders, mass transit systems, and sporting events ongoing and scheduled for June. Also look for new app releases (free and paid on Andriod and iOS) as well as a new free Android app called GammaAlert that runs in the background and provides continuous crowdsourced radiation monitoring. I
      • by jrincayc (22260)

        And for what it is worth, Radiation Detection and Measurement, 3rd Ed, 2000 by Glenn Knoll, mentions: "[A] smaller subset of devices with similar properties, often called scientific CCDs, have emerged in the 1990s as extremely useful sensors for radiation detection and imaging. They have found widespread use in the tracking or imaging of high-energy minimum ionizing particles. CCDs have also become a somewhat more complex but viable alternative to lithium-drift silicon detectors for routine X-ray spectros

    • Does mike449 work for the Idaho National Laboratory?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      As someone who designs camera phones, we're well aware of this phenomenon but we're not going to spend precious power telling the user there might be a radiological source nearby. Chances are it'll be a hospital.

    • The INL project started in ~2005, but it was only recently announced.
  • ..a highly ingenious way to warn us about something that has close to a zero chance of happening. I guess it's like the rest of Homeland Security's efforts, just without the ingenious part.

    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      ..a highly ingenious way to warn us about something that has close to a zero chance of happening. I guess it's like the rest of Homeland Security's efforts, just without the ingenious part.

      Not to mention, a highly ingenious way to keep the hype of the 'danger' of dirty bombs fresh in our minds. THANK YOU, DHS. It's been proven a few times that dirty bombs are no real threat since they're just radioactive-packed conventional explosives, but the media kept hyping them as the 'Next And Future Most Dangerous Evil Terrorrorrorrorrorrist Weapon of Mass Destruction', even though the cleanup of the aftermath of a 'dirty bomb' has been mathematically proven to be trivial compared to cleaning up afte

      • by dbIII (701233) on Friday May 17, 2013 @09:20PM (#43759351)
        When a Kosmos satellite with some plutonium aboard smeared itself over a few hundred miles of Canada the cleanup operation went more smoothly than anyone ever expected. It turns out that detection from the air works well, even with 1970s technology.
      • by Goaway (82658)

        It's been proven a few times that dirty bombs are no real threat since they're just radioactive-packed conventional explosives

        Why are you stating the definition of a dirty bomb as the proof that it is not a threat?

    • by fufufang (2603203)

      ..a highly ingenious way to warn us about something that has close to a zero chance of happening. I guess it's like the rest of Homeland Security's efforts, just without the ingenious part.

      Well, nerve agent was used in Tokyo by terrorists 18 years ago.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarin_gas_attack_on_the_Tokyo_subway [wikipedia.org]

      I wonder how likely the terrorists can get hold of radioactive material. This kind of thing is so unlikely, They might as well blow the money on destroying asteroids, at least that will help space science.

      • It's relatively easy to get a small amount of highly radioactive material, say Cobalt-60, used in medical isotope generation. A little goes a long way if you're just trying to upset people by making a Geiger counter go nuts. Break into some decommissioned Russian hospital, some third world facility with poor security or steal it in NYC. A couple of sticks of dynamite, a timer and panic time.*

        * For instructional and entertainment use only. Not to be taken as an endorsement or plan.

  • in a movie, like Superman III?

    andy

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by rriegs (1540879)
      No, no, it was a different DC hero, and much more recent. And the technology in question was sonar---"like a submarine!"---but then that doesn't matter much. Of course its use was justified, just once, by the general terrorization of the people of Gotham, and I'm sure everyone involved would take comfort by the fact that a benevolent yet private entity could effortlessly hack into all of their cell phones at the same time. For the greater good.

      Then again, perhaps all those people voluntarily installed
  • If you're going to crowdsource this, I think you'd find a more-receptive initial population by rolling it out in areas where mapping radiation is likely to have actual practical uses, rather than trumpeting the effectively-zero risk of terrorism.

    Say, the neighborhoods of Chernobyl, areas of Kazakhstan or Siberia around former Soviet nuclear sites, or... Fukushima?

    Accurately mapping radioactivity is applicable to real life now, no need to resort to FUD about theoretical dirty bombs.

  • That the data from all those cameras, location+image, is constantly being streamed to a secure government facility where the data will only be used for good, right?

    And people are concerned about Google Glass?

    Yes, it's an interesting idea, but it has some problems!

    But the carriers would probably love it, as someone would have to pay for all the bandwidth used -- certainly not gonna be a freebie on the carrier -- an opportunity for a government mandated fee, perhaps?

    Idea -- check sources (e.g. 137Cs)
    • by femtobyte (710429)

      Idea -- check sources (e.g. 137Cs) are pretty cheap. Attach them to the outsides of public transit, pigeons, anything that moves around. The more the merrier.

      There aren't particularly restrictions on who can purchase them, but the companies that make radioactive sealed sources do keep records (and are often wary about shipping to addresses outside a university or research corporation). If you order a couple dozen 137Cs sources strong enough to show up on cellphones a meter or two away, and then they suddenly start appearing on buses around town --- I hope you wanted to see beautiful Guantanamo Bay, because you're likely to end up in a big mess of trouble fast.

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        because terrorists care about prison and the paperwork trail found after they do their evil deeds?

        just like the Boston bombers cared if they were on security cams?

        nope, nope and nope.

        • by femtobyte (710429)

          I was assuming the parent poster wasn't so much a terrorist as a mischievous prankster --- if your level of evil mastermind planning is to tag mostly harmless minor radioactive sources around the city (causing distress and embarrassment to the officials running the phone tracking scheme, but not exactly the mass terror of an actual bomb), then you might well be deterred by jail time. An actual terrorist unafraid of getting caught would just head to the target, phones be damned, and set off a bomb before pho

          • "I was assuming the parent poster wasn't so much a terrorist as a mischievous prankster"

            How do you tell the difference? A dirty bomb is mostly a weapon of mass distraction. The response is likely what shuts down an important area, rather than the actual danger.

            Doing it with a sizable number of relatively harmless sources spread out over a block or two will keep them guessing what the danger and scope is for a bit, even if each one isn't particularly dangerous. It doesn't have the extended clean up phase, bu

            • by femtobyte (710429)

              How do you tell the difference?

              From observational evidence that *actual* terrorists groups don't seem to be into intentional "false alarm" style attacks (regardless of how "attractively effective" these would appear to be). Our own law enforcement agencies and fearful public create some of these, but there has yet to be evidence of, e.g., Al Qaeda affiliated groups leaving boxes of alarm clocks in airport terminals. Why wouldn't terrorists do this? For one thing, they're *extremely rare* (at least in this country). This leads to the seco

        • because terrorists care about prison and the paperwork trail found after they do their evil deeds?

          From what I hear they don't care to be at Guantanamo.

      • by Immerman (2627577)

        Hmm, and exactly what crime would you be committing? Littering? Vandalism? Public nuisance?

        We (hopefully) still live in a nation where the authorities are still (sort of) bound by the rule of law. Certainly the legal tools are all in place for them to "disappear" anyone they want to, but it seems like thus far they are hesitant to actually exercise those powers without pretty solid reason, or at least they do a good job of making sure nobody hears about the abuses, which with today's social media would be

        • by femtobyte (710429)

          Hmm, and exactly what crime would you be committing?

          I have full confidence in our legal system's ability to manufacture a really scary sounding terrorism-related set of charges requiring harsh punishment. Sufficient legal memos will be generated to make whatever actions are taken fully retroactively legal. We're past the bad old Bush days of carrying out illegal imprisonment, torture, and executions on any flimsy pretenses of terrorism --- thanks to the tireless work of the Justice Department, we can now carry out fully legal imprisonment, torture, and execu

  • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Friday May 17, 2013 @07:17PM (#43758565)

    So if this were both widely deployed and effective it would just force these hypothetical dirty bomb enthusiasts to line the bomb container with lead. Lead which would become toxic shrapnel on detonation. The potential for many false positives has already been mentioned, but this system could be easily defeated by a thin lead lining. Lead lining has the further benefit of shielding a non-suicidal bomber from his own radiation.

    • by H0p313ss (811249)

      So if this were both widely deployed and effective it would just force these hypothetical dirty bomb enthusiasts to line the bomb container with lead. Lead which would become toxic shrapnel on detonation. The potential for many false positives has already been mentioned, but this system could be easily defeated by a thin lead lining. Lead lining has the further benefit of shielding a non-suicidal bomber from his own radiation.

      That's easy, we just ban well shielded dirty bombs. *rimshot*

    • Re:lead lining (Score:4, Informative)

      by iggymanz (596061) on Friday May 17, 2013 @07:35PM (#43758689)

      lead doe not magically stop 100% of gamma rays from a source.. Consider 1.1 MeV gamma rays from cobalt 60, a centimeter of lead will cut the amount of gamma rays only to half, still detectable.

    • Shielding makes the bomb bigger and heavier. Bigger and heavier bombs are harder to handle and hide. That makes them easier to detect.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Lead which would become toxic shrapnel on detonation.

      Ummm... somehow I feel the toxicity of lead are the least cause of worry in the case of a dirty bomb explosion...

    • by caluml (551744)

      "it would just force these hypothetical dirty bomb enthusiasts to line the bomb container with lead"

      A friend of mine works for a company making detectors for ports.

      I said to him "But terrorists will just ship them in in lead-lined boxes", and he told me that that would cause a measurable drop in the background radiation which would trigger suspicions.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I cannot believe in the year 2013 I am still seeing the myth of the "dirty bomb" being perpetuated. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2004/oct/15/broadcasting.bbc

  • Will say that govenrment gets access to everyone's cell phones so they can "fight terror." It's for our own safety. We should all be thankful Uncle Sam is looking out for us.

    *sigh

  • so beta, alpha and neutron emitters, is there an app for that?

  • My phone doesn't have a camera!

    And my camera doesn't have a phone.

  • ...That having all these distributed and location-tracked radiation detectors monitored by authorities (I have serious doubts about the government/DHS allowing anything like full and complete public access to the hit-location data) makes this effectively a very powerful tool for tracking individuals/objects/papers/etc of interest to the authorities by simply "tagging", in any number of ways and methods, whatever they want to track with a radioactive substance...liquid, powder, spray, dart, added to food/dri

    • No wrapping one's head in a damp towel. Better get your ass to Mars!

      Prostitutes with only three boobs?
      Hey, man, I got five kids to feed!

  • If they are talking about enough users having this running to be effective, then they are talking about a tremendous number of users basically setting their phones to drain their batteries out as-fast-as-possible. What are the electricity costs of such an endeavor? Significant, I'd wager.

    And the number of false-positives that would be generated would be huge, I'd imagine.

  • by LanMan04 (790429) on Friday May 17, 2013 @08:07PM (#43758929)

    From everything I've read about dirty bombs, their radiological damage is negligible...it's all about creating panic.

  • Also known as a chemotherapy patient detector. I know if I was getting chemo, I wouldn't mind getting tackled by the police every other day because of the slight radioactivity.
  • by rossdee (243626) on Friday May 17, 2013 @09:14PM (#43759317)

    This will force Al-Qaeda to clean up their act.

  • Didn't the Department of Energy do a study and found that if a dirty bomb went off, the worst of it would actually be the initial (conventional) explosion and ensuing panic? Essentially dirty bombs are equivalent to the boogy man

  • I read that having a radition detector is illegal in New York City (like wearing body armor on school grounds...)

    Does this make every camera phone in New York illegal?

  • There have been andriod apps in the market place for years converting your phones cmos camera into a real life working decently accurate geiger counter easily able to pick up background. If you go looking take care to avoid the joke apps.

    While this is all really cool and interesting mcgivering of technology dirty bombs don't actually exist because they are pointless.

  • Plutonium and uranium are alpha emitters. Alphas won't get through a sheet of cardboard. A gamma ray detector won't pick up anything. This won't detect an atomic bomb.

    This is only useful for detecting radioactive waste, miscellaneous medical and industrial radiation sources out of their casings, and X-ray machines.

  • While I'm all for doing my civic duty, I'm not sure people would be too happy about an app that, I'm guessing, would leave your camera on all the time, and phone home data using your bandwidth. (But would be fascinating to the the resulting croudsourced 'radiation map'...we'd probably find out a few things that govt and private institutions had forgotten about, or had hoped been forgotten.)

    Anyway, my though was, would this work with the enormous number of suveillance cameras deployed by the authorities? '

  • by unami (1042872)
    now we just need to wait for someone to finally build the world's first dirty bomb.

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