Finnish company Environics has an undeniably long history in chemical detection. More than three decades later the company is pushing chemical detection to the next level with ChemProX, released in Spring 2019 as a new generation of handheld chemical detectors. Teemu Partanen reveals how long experience in chemical detection has produced an innovative one-device system.

ChemProX core technology is designed to equip any team with easy and accurate chemical detection capabilities. It is deeply rooted in Environics history, which dates back to 1987 when the company released its first, innovative chemical detection device, the M86, in collaboration with Finnish Defense Forces – and the classic M90 CWA detector in the early 1990s.

IMS and AIMS
A major part of ChemProX performance is derived from time-tested, proven measurement technology. The ion mobility cell patented by Environics is a modified aspiration type of IMS (ion mobility spectrometry). The IMS spectral fingerprints are measured with multiple electric fields, and selectivity is based on the mass cross-sectional area and the charge of the ion – ion mobility. Airflow through the cell is continuous, hence the acronym AIMS (aspiration ion mobility spectrometry).

As an orthogonal detector, ChemProX does not rely on IMS alone. It also includes semiconductor cells and a hot-plate microsensor to see what’s going on in the measurement matrix. Semiconductor and microsensor surfaces absorb sample gas molecules, which change its electrical resistance.

The resulting resistance changes are reflected in the output of the sensor. Information originating in each sensor is integrated within the processing algorithm which uses the decision-making capabilities of fuzzy logic. This intelligent processing system leads to a highly accurate detection performance and significantly enhances interferent rejection.

Communication in the field
ChemProX has also taken a gigantic leap into contemporaneity – through real-time data and measurement information sharing. This means it is an actual medium for communication. Until now, when deployed to the field with chemical detectors, each member of the team had to collect measurement information individually and present it to C&C (command and control) afterwards, or by radio.

Thanks to wireless communications and an intuitive graphical user interface, the measurement data and status of each team member can now be observed constantly in real time in the C&C when using ChemProX in the field.

In addition to its chemical detection capabilities, ChemProX incorporates built-in mobile command and control software the team commander can utilise to maintain real-time full situational awareness. Via software, the commander is able to view each piece of information: the geolocation of each chemical detector and team member on GPS, the alarm status of each detector, and the trend line status of each detector – with the chemical concentration in graphic visual form.

Communication is articulated not just between the operators and the C&C, but also between each team member equipped with ChemProX. Since the status information of each detector is visible to each team member during the entire mission, the team is freed up to maximise its focus on necessary actions.

Acting in unison
For instance, if one member receives an alarm or the trend line starts to rise – indicating that the relative chemical concentration level is rising – the whole team can act in unison, focusing its efforts on marking the hot zone where the chemical concentration is at the highest. In extreme situations, the commander can send an evacuation order to each team member’s detector via the mobile command and control software.

It is possible to create a wireless detection network that is expandable up to ten detectors per group, inside which the data transmission between the detectors is established by 256-bit encrypted, secured, radio data. ChemProX differentiates itself from other chemical detectors in diversity. The operator does not actually need to be next to the detector in order to acquire information of possible chem threats. This creates the potential for ChemProX to act as part of a wireless unmanned network that can secure and monitor a delimited perimeter or critical area.

It is safe to state that ChemProX is the only chemical detector in its class which allows all users to reach real-time and full situational awareness, presenting a new way of communication during a chemical detection mission.

Training mode on
To develop CBRN response capabilities, short time frames for decision making and consequent actions mean that training is an essential asset for preparedness of any operator group. Training consists in developing a particular skill or skill set to a desired standard by combining instruction and practice.

With this in mind, ChemProX was designed by experts in close collaboration with first-response professionals, ensuring that technological developments match the operators’ needs. It features an in-built training mode that allows users to train different scenarios: a useful tool to simulate real-life situations they might face. By using the same piece of equipment applied in live situations, the training mode will increase familiarity with the device – thereby enhancing response time and accuracy.

Simulator systems became increasingly popular in the early 2000s and still are, of course, a good way to train in the usage of that new detector your organisation just purchased. However, there are a few drawbacks: simulator systems are expensive, and you have twice the detectors you need — actual detectors and simulators – to train on the detectors.

With ChemProX it is easy to switch on the simulation mode, clearly indicated by the blue colour on the UI bars. You can train with two different training methods: chemical leak or cloud dispersion search – utilising Bluetooth sources that simulate the dispersion of chemical clouds. The ChemProX mobile C&C and training software provides alarms to individual devices or groups of devices, or will even mark contaminated areas that trigger the alarm when the operator enters them.

Information overload
Nobody likes to read long and monotonous manuals. Instructions must be easily absorbed as a chemical incident may escalate quickly if you don’t know the basics about the device you’re carrying. The ChemProX interface includes a set of concise instructions to help the operator perform basic mission preparation and action tasks, such as replacing an inlet filter or making a confidence check.

Information on chemical agents, folders, guides and databases tends to include an extensive scientific account of each compound. However, this encyclopaedic load of facts is not what the operator needs in the hot zone when an alarm has just been triggered! ChemProX provides a simplified chemical agent database with selective information. This includes isolation areas, biological symptoms, lighter or heavier than air, hazard diamond, UN and CAS (Chemical Abstracts Service) number, and so on. Fast, efficient countermeasures require clear and relevant data.

This innovative approach towards chemical detection enables real-time situational awareness in the field, a quick check of action procedures, and simulation of in-built features. It is important to emphasise that for CBRN monitoring AI (artificial intelligence) has not yet overtaken human actions. While ChemProX is an excellent extension and addition to operator senses, it does not replace common-sense assessment.

Teemu Partanen has worked in the CBRN field since 2004, focusing on chemical detection, technical specialisation, product management and sales support, technical and practical CBRN training, and market requirements of military and civil defence first responders.

Photo credit: The ChemProX connectivity feature is applied to field schematics.
© Environics