The future of secure travel hinges on seamless, instant communication-and 24/7 autonomous surveillance. For a look at the technologies that will soon safeguard your travel plans, launch the photo gallery.
Five years after terrorists chillingly exposed our home-front vulnerabilities to unconventional warfare, are we safer? Ask Maureen McCarthy, director of science and technology transition at the Department of Homeland Security, and she answers in a word: â€Absolutely.â€
Pause. Clarification: â€They can still game us, but figuring out how to get past our defenses now is harder to do.â€
In the race to prevent future 9/11-style attacks-or worse-Washington has marshaled the U.S. science establishment on a scale not seen since Sputnik. Federal investment in
homeland-defense research has swallowed nearly $4 billion since 2003, and that´s a mere drop of total security spending. (DHS´s budget this year alone is $40 billion.) More important, McCarthy suggests, is that the accelerated spending has brought together formerly disparate disciplines: Software engineers, epidemiologists and biologists have teamed up to produce technologies that protect air and food against bioterrorism. Nuclear physicists and bioforensics specialists now cooperate with the best brains in behavioral science to devise ways to reduce the threat of nuclear smuggling and suicide bombers.
Yet some experts argue that much of the big spending provides only an illusory sense of security. â€A lot of it is security theater-technology designed to make you feel better,â€ says Bruce Schneier, author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly about Security in an Uncertain World. He points to high-tech protection poured into landmarks, from the White House to local city halls, that he claims diverts terrorist attention to â€softerâ€ targets like subways and stadiums. But the government seems to have taken the point. Its ever-expanding homeland-security measures cover not just big targets but the nation´s broader vulnerabilities as well. Here are five of the highest-risk areas, along with some of the technologies emerging over the next few years to defend them.
Air, Water, Food Supplies
One of the biggest challenges in this area is to develop sensors that can sniff out attacks on everything from crops in fields to air-conditioning systems in public spaces. The Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, has deployed a network of miniature toxin detectors in 30 American cities as part of a $300-million program called BioWatch. The filters collect airborne toxins, which are sent to laboratories for analysis.
Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have pushed this idea further with their Autonomous Pathogen Detection System, or APDS. Inspired by the 1995 Sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway, APDS can identify chemicals and biotoxins without
requiring researchers to gather daily samplings and wait for readouts. Hooked to the ventilation system of a mall, train station or other gathering place, APDS can perform 178 separate samplings of air over a week without human intervention and relay its findings wirelessly to a central lab. It´s been tested in New York City and could debut in other urban areas by 2008.
The future of secure travel hinges on seamless, instant communication-and 24/7 autonomous surveillance. For a look at the technologies that will soon safeguard your travel plans, launch the photo gallery.single page
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.