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Your Next Fitbit Should Detect Nuclear Bombs, DHS Hopes

The 'Human Portable Tripwire' program will work to develop wearable tech designed to sniff out radioactive material.

The Department of Homeland Security is developing portable devices that can detect nuclear threats, as part of a broader federal effort to invest in wearable technology. 

In a Friday blog post, Huban Gowadia, director of DHS' Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, outlined the "Human Portable Tripwire" program, which intends to outfit Customs and Border Protection, Coast Guard and Transportation Security Administration officers with devices that "passively monitor the environment" and can alert wearers when they detect nuclear or radioactive material. 

The Department has been gathering information about that technology for more than a year. In September, DHS awarded a $24 million contract for the devices to a division of FLIR Systems, an Oregon-based technology design and manufacturing firm.

DHS isn't the only agency thinking of new ways to detect nuclear threats. A State Department senior adviser for arms control, Brian Nordmann, told an audience last month his team is working with researchers at the University of Hawaii to use the iPhone 5 to pick up infrasonic noise, potentially signalling nuclear tests underground.

Federal agencies have been considering other potential uses for wearable devices. In June, for instance, Wolf Tombe, the chief technology officer at Customs and Border Protection, described how a network of wearable devices could one day text dispatchers if an officer is in trouble, and that high-tech fabric could detect the wearer's heart rate, or the force of impact the officer might experience on the job. 

In August, the Defense Department invested $75 million in a group of companies and universities developing flexible and wearable electronic devices, including digitally-enabled bandages for soldiers. (With that investment, DOD established the Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Flexible Hybrid Electronics, based in San Jose, California.)