CHICAGO, May 6 (UPI) -- A terrorist tries to sneak a bomb hidden in a lunch bag onto Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty. As he passes through an X-ray machine at a security screening station, images of the bomb are sent over an encrypted, wireless broadband network to a command center in New York City. Bomb technicians evaluate -- and alert the U.S. Park Police, who nab the suspect.
This is not a scene from "The Interpreter," the latest thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn -- it is a new technological capability the government has employed to thwart terrorists. Experts told UPI's Wireless World that wireless security networks are using increasingly sophisticated tools to protect Americans from coast to coast.
Research continues in the field, where wireless, nano-scale sensors, are being developed for remote monitoring.
Nanotechnology operates on the scale of nanometers, or billionths of a meter.
"With the growth of muscular wireless networks, all those fiber-optic cables and the gear associated with them have become less necessary," said Noah Shachtman, editor of DefenseTech.org, an online publication owned by Lycos Inc. "That means locking down an area has suddenly gotten a whole lot cheaper -- infrastructure expenses can be one of the weightiest items in a security budget."
The bomb detection network at the Statue of Liberty was developed by MSGI Security Solutions and Michael Stapleton Associates Ltd., both in New York City. The network sends a fully encrypted digital signal over a private broadband network created solely for detecting bombs. The network's bomb technicians receive X-ray images, as well as voice over Internet audio, transmitted in real-time from the national landmark's site. The system works round-the-clock delivering video and audio data.
The custom-designed wireless solution is the "successful, first project in a series of joint initiatives" the contractors are undertaking, said Jeremy Barbera, chairman and chief executive officer of MSGI Security Solutions.
The team has other projects in the works for the Department of Homeland Security to provide remote bomb detection that delivers rich-media content, including audio, biometric, video and sensor data.
"This is the first I've heard of wireless networks being employed specifically for bomb detection," Shachtman said.
Research is ongoing at technology companies and universities to develop even more sophisticated wireless sensing networks.
A project underway at the University of California, San Diego, enables paramedics to tap into networks from a Personal Digital Assistant or PDA and "essentially navigate the disaster scene by zooming and panning with the networked cameras, without moving the cameras," said Doug Ramsey, a university spokesman. "It essentially lets them zoom and pan on the entire 360-degree camera video so that thousands of people at the same time can be looking at a different portion of the 360-degree image."
UCSD researcher Mohan Trivedi said the technology -- called the Digital Tele-Viewer -- was funded by the National Science Foundation for "dealing with IT for first-responders, and we will be initiating another effort with the (Department of Defense) and DHS."
Another UCSD project focuses on deploying wireless sensors on major structures -- such as bridges -- and using the technology to monitor those structures for short-term decay, reaction to seismic activity and damage from terrorist attack.
"Eventually, the sensors could also test for toxins in the air, as with a chemical attack," Ramsey said.
Police departments are using the remote monitoring technology as well -- and apparently quite effectively.
"In New Orleans, the police there are deploying mesh networks to connect the surveillance cameras that keep watch over some of the city's most notorious projects," Shachtman said. "At some of the country's busiest ports, wirelessly connected cameras make sure the incoming trucks and boats are friendly, not hostile."
In Chicago, police are using wireless networks to link their surveillance cameras to the city's fiber-optic backbone for monitoring by the city's Office of Emergency Management, Shachtman said.
Firms continue to develop new technologies that can be used for remote monitoring. Nanosys Inc. of Palo Alto, Calif., this week said it had received a patent for "nanowires, nanostructures and devices fabricated therefrom" from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The technology covers a broad array of devices, including optical detectors, which can be created from different materials on the nanoscale.
"The technology to integrate different materials at the nanoscale enables us to create nanostructures that perform as devices with multiple functions," said Calvin Chow, Nanosys's CEO.
One potential downside to the technology, Shachtman said, is wireless networks tend to be a whole lot easier to access illicitly than wired networks.
"One misconfigured wireless access point could give a hacker all the room he needs to wiggle his way into the network," Shachtman said, "but given the potential cost savings, I'm guessing it's a tradeoff that more security managers are going to be willing to make."
Gene J. Koprowski is a 2005 Winner of a Lilly Endowment Award for his columns for United Press International. He covers telecommunications for UPI Science News. E-mail: email@example.com