Handheld Chemical Cloud Identifier Hits First Responder Market

By Stew Magnuson
BLOCK Engineering has shrunk a fixed-sight chemical cloud detector down to where it can be carried into the field.

Its Fourier-transform-infrared spectrometer, the Porthos, can find and identify a chemical cloud at distances of up to 5 kilometers, chief executive officer Petros Kotidis said.

Users point at a suspected area where agents might be found, and it reads the spectra. An on-board computer with a library of substances highlights the cloud or fumes on a view screen and tells operators what they are seeing.

Kotidis wouldn’t disclose how many agents are in the library, “but we have all the dangerous ones,” he said. It detects all the chemical agents the military requires — nerve, blood and blister — and toxic industrial chemicals such as ammonia, boron trichloride, phosgene, nitric acid, sulfur dioxide and hydrogen cyanide. Additional chemicals can be programmed as needed, company literature said.

The previous version, the mobile chemical agent detector, was intended for fixed sights. “The key benefit of the new technology is the mobile nature of it,” he said. The Porthos weighs about 15 pounds and is operated with two hands.

Along with military and homeland security critical infrastructure protection applications, firefighters could use it at a train derailment to see if there are any toxic chemicals on the scene. Police could point it at an apartment building and discover if there are any signs of a clandestine methamphetamine laboratory, he said.

“If anyone releases anything dangerous in the area, we will see it five kilometers before it gets there,” he said.

Topics: Chem Bio Protection, Homeland Security, Disaster Response, Science and Technology

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