DHS Awards $2M for Small Businesses to Develop Machine Learning for Detection Technologies

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program recently awarded funding to two small businesses to develop non-contact, inexpensive machine learning training and classification technologies. Integrated machine learning platforms can significantly reduce time, redundancy, cost, and improve the accuracy in detecting threats such as explosives, chemical agents, and narcotics.

“S&T embraces the significant advances in artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities and their ability to enhance threat detection,” said Kathryn Coulter Mitchell, DHS Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Under Secretary for Science and Technology. “The SBIR Program provides the opportunity for S&T to partner with innovative small businesses and develop machine learning tools critical to addressing threat detection needs. I am looking forward to seeing the technologies that will be developed by these SBIR efforts.”

Physical Sciences Inc. (PSI), based in Andover, MA, and Alakai Defense Systems, Inc. (Alakai), based in Largo, FL, each received approximately $1 million in SBIR Phase II funding to develop technologies that can rapidly and accurately identify unknown spectrometer signals as safe or threatening. The DHS SBIR Program, managed by Program Director Dusty Lang and administered at the DHS Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), selected PSI and Alakai to participate in Phase II of the program subsequent to demonstration of feasibility in Phase I, for each companies’ compact, accurate and rapid classification Machine Learning Module for Detection Technologies solutions.

Under Phase II, PSI will continue to develop their deep-learning algorithm for detection and classification of trace explosives, opioids, and narcotics on surfaces, for optical spectroscopic systems. PSI will extend the algorithm’s capabilities from infrared reflectance spectroscopy to include Raman spectroscopy, as well as a proposed operational module prototype, which will have a classification accuracy of greater than 90 percent.

During their Phase II efforts, Alakai, will continue development of the Agnostic Machine Learning Platform for Spectroscopy (AMPS) that rapidly and accurately detects trace quantities of hazardous and related chemicals from a variety of spectroscopic instruments.

“Our impetus for developing these machine-learning modules stems from the Transportation Security Administration’s operational needs for threat signature fusion, the ability to learn, detect and classify new threats without being explicitly programmed, and, ultimately, increase accuracy of detection,” said Thoi Nguyen, DHS S&T Program Manager for the Next Generation Explosive Trace Detection (NGETD) Program. “With experienced industrial partners like Alakai and PSI, and our strong collaboration with TSA, we hope these efforts will contribute to wider applications of machine learning across the Homeland Security mission space.”

At the completion of the 24-month Phase II contract, SBIR awardees will have developed a prototype to demonstrate the advancement of the technology, spearheading the potential for Phase III funding.

Under Phase III, SBIR performers will seek to secure funding from private and/or non-SBIR government sources, with the eventual goal to commercialize and bring to market the technologies from Phases I and II.

To learn more about the DHS SBIR Program visit: https://sbir2.st.dhs.gov or contact [email protected].

Register now for the Insights Outreach: Getting Onboard with SBIR webinar on July 6, 2021 from 2-3 p.m. ET. During this live webinar, attendees will hear from the DHS SBIR Director about how small businesses can participate in the SBIR program and how technologies developed through SBIR can support DHS component technology needs.

For more information on the DHS SBIR Program, visit: https://www.dhs.gov/science-and-technology/sbir.

For more information on S&T’s innovation programs and tools, visit: https://www.dhs.gov/science-and-technology/work-with-st.

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The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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