Homeland security is going to be an increasingly important sector for design engineers. One thing that's lacking is turnkey solutions which bundle everything from the sensor to the software to the under interface to the packaging and deployment. (For an interesting development in that regard, in the airport perimeter security realm, see a story I did a while back on some IBM work -- "IBM Patenting Airport Security Profiling Technology.")
That said, this sensor is a great advance in terms of applicability to portable devices.
What am I missing? If the sensor requires a special printer and special ink cartridges, what is the advantage over standard manufacturing? Or is the idea that the military (or whoever) would purchase their own printer / "ink" and make the items onsite?
That's a good question, Beth. The researchers hope to spin off a company to build a manufacturing facility. While startup costs could run into the millions, once that's accomplished, printing the sensors would be fast and inexpensive.
I can see some value in such a sensor, and it certainly is a great invention. Unfortunately it would not be able to detect any of the non-ammonia based explosives, of which there are many. For example, consider plain old gunpowder, using a potasium based compound, and nitroglyceren , and that old military standby "C4". So while it is a great contribution, it does not end the problem. Aside from that, there is an easy and simple way to render the sensor useless. But I won't describe that method at all.
This may become a great product and very IMPORTANT one. We need to doall we can to support and help our troops. This is a very nice idea, but clearly it is important to isolate the amonia from regular uses and minimize errors.
Given the toll that IEDs have had on troops and civilians, this seems like a technology that could have some real life-saving impact. I'm curious, though if specialized ink-jet printers and photographic paper limit production to a laboratory scale, how realistic is it that these sensors can really make a different in sniffing out dangerous explosives?