July 1, 2019

Tech Trove, a Singapore SME, has introduced a prototype that can detect chemicals that are used to make explosives and home-made bombs. The device was showcased at Innovfest Unbound, held from 27-28 June. Innovfest unbound is Southeast Asia’s largest, most exciting and award-winning innovation festival, organised by NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore (NUS), and Unbound.

The technology for this prototype was developed by Associate Professor Zhao Dan from the Department of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering at NUS Faculty of Engineering. He was also a recipient of the NUS Young Researcher Award in 2018.

Mr Andrew Koh, Founder & Managing Director of Tech Trove said: “We used the technology developed by NUS and added engineering works to come up with Singapore’s first explosive trace device (ETD). Funded by Events Architects, the device is now ready for field trials and eventual commercialisation. We started as an Event Agency 14 years ago and are now moving into developing solutions for the events industry, especially those involving a large mass of people.”

The Concept

The device has a volatile organic compound (VOC) sensor which can detect a variety of “smells”, including “smells” associated with trace amounts of chemicals and explosives that are typically used for home-made bombs. The technology is patented in Singapore by NUS and exclusively licensed to Tech Trove. Patents outside Singapore will be applied by Tech Trove.

The invention involves the use of piezo-electric air suction vents to expose the sensing materials to potential samples of chemicals. There is also a dual redundancy pipe design to reduce cross-contamination and false readings. It is a cartridge-based system to ensure quick sampling and detection.

Weighing less than 1 kg, the portable and wireless ETD can be easily transported to events, where it can quickly screen large numbers of people. It takes about 10 to 15 seconds to screen an individual, depending on the clothing and number of bags carried.  By using the suction method, this device is significantly more efficient than other devices that use a slower swiping method. It is also less intrusive, thus leading to improved screening experience.

Assoc Prof Zhao Dan said: “I began this research work in 2014, and I am pleased that my research has resulted in the development of a useful device for the detection of explosives which can benefit society. It can serve as a deterrent against unauthorised possession of such chemicals which could be used to make home-made bombs. I am very excited to work with Tech Trove, a home-grown SME, to further refine the technology and bring it to global markets.”

Through this collaboration, Tech Trove owns the exclusive global license for the technology. It is estimated that the hand-held device will cost about US$3,000 each. According to a market research study by Markets & Markets, explosives detection market (ETD) was worth US$3.6 billion globally in 2015 and is expected to grow to US$6 billion by 2020 at a compound annual growth rate of about 12%. The overall estimated value of the explosive trace detection market segment in the verticals of event and airport screening in the Asia Pacific region is US$372.5 million.