back to article DHS building handheld lobster spy-beam scanners

The world-famous US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is working on astounding handheld lobster technology which could let operatives "see through walls, wood, concrete, earth, and steel". Just like lobsters can. (Hold on ...) An article in the latest DHS Science & Technology Snapshots newsletter entitled "Eye of the …


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  1. Graham White

    Life imitates art?

    This sounds uncannily like the first few pages of Charles Stross's novel

    Accelerando. Now all we need are the sentient cat-like robots ...

  2. Hedley Phillips

    X Ray Specs

    At last I can buy those X Ray Specs I dreamed of as a child.

  3. supermeerkat
    Thumb Up

    Salvador Dali would be proud.

    I was hoping for genuine lobsters, used in the same way sniffer dogs are. That'd make for a fine, surreal site at the airport: lobsters on leads, peering intently at things to see if they contain contraband.

    Now, if we could use 'em for telephonic communications I'd be one happy meerkat.

  4. Michael Warburton


    "this creature is able to "see" through walls of dense water obscured by silt and sand... Lobsters have limited image resolution, but possess high sensitivity and the ability to detect fast movement and the polarisation of light."

    So how exactly would being able to detect fast movement through water help to detect "hidden contraband" beneath a steel floor for example? It's not April the 1st again already is it?

  5. Steve
    Thumb Down


    It's a little short on explaining the physics of how any sort of detector array can detect something that isn't there.

    Take a box for example. No photons are going into or coming out of that box, I'm fairly confident that lobsters can't see through boxes and so this device can't either, at least not with any technology covered in this article.

    Maybe if it were based on mm or terahertz radiation which will penetrate some things (but not metal) then a hand held device could be used to see through things (in false colour though). The depth of material it would penetrate would be quite limited though, clothing, a cm of flesh, maybe a few mill of wood, and not through metal at all.

  6. EddyS


    "Here you have a crustacean with an amazingly miniscule brain,"

    As opposed to the bozos from DHS who are known for their huge brains and amazing intelligence

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Re: physics

    Diagram gives a few clues though... presumably it uses a high energy X-ray tube to illuminate the target causing flourescence and then a sensor array sitting inside the lead shielded cone detects whatever comes back out again. The concept isn't terribly novel so I guess the sensor must be the clever bit... or maybe it is all just a lot of hype about nothing?

    I am also fairly sure that this is not how lobsters work...

  8. bombastinator

    it makles sense but it doesn't sound very safe

    te device appears to use a x-ray lamp and then read it like a sort of compound fluoroscope. i suspect resolution gets better as the cells get smaller and the size of the array increases. What I don't get though is how they are going to keep the operator from getting cancer. If you remember old style radar guns were giving cops cancer, and they didn't use anything near as ionizing as x-rays.

  9. Anonymous Coward


    "Here you have a crustacean with an amazingly miniscule brain,"

    I think that's probably a reference to their President.

  10. Eileen Bach

    It will terrorise the native

    lobsters. I think we should take this with a PINCH of SALT. It all BOILS down to GRASPING at SHORES to keep the BIG FISH (f)industries NET

    value BOYANT...........I'm getting the SHELL out of here..

  11. gfs

    Set to defrost

    Perhaps it can be used as a crowd dispersal weapon, a handy switch on the back to turn up the gain would be all that is needed, or just to defrost frozen meals.

  12. Rick Berry

    If only...

    If only they had something like this on the Death Star. Then they would have found those pesky rebels hiding under the floor of the captured ship.

  13. Kurt Guntheroth

    scare the terrorists

    This is just a play from the U.S. mil-scare playbook. We claim to have invented a superweapon. We noisily begin deployment. We even walk around airports with a few of the things, which look rather too much like a big flashlight painted black. With any luck our adversaries begin to think about ionizing radiation piercing their hidey-holes while simultaneously giving them cancer, and stay at home to snipe at U.S. soldiers in lightly armored humvees.

    Hey, it worked pretty well with the Star Wars missile defense thing. And anything that (Saint) Ronald Reagen did must be pretty good, right?

  14. Alex
    Paris Hilton

    a what?!

    he he they said "Bottom Crawler"

    *Enter Beavis and Butthead giggle and gaffaw*

    Run Paris, Run!

  15. Anonymous John

    It's a Tricorder

    Yet another Star Trek invention.

  16. Mike Moyle

    X-ray projector

    I'll admit that I'm no scientist, but I have this sneaking suspicion that the image of the poor tech scanning with his x-raygun is missing one crucial detail. (I'm assuming, here, that he's wearing his lead BVDs under the uniform - unless the dull grey color of the uniform is indicative of its construction.)

    Can we really make a usefully penetrative x-ray projector/scanner that runs off of batteries in the handgrip, or should there be a honkin' big electrical cord running out the back?

  17. justin myatt

    Crap - just relaised what the chap in the picture in actually doing

    He's trying to find a pigging Nintendo Wii, since they all appear to be hidden here in Canada. Apparently the dudes at Futureshoppee and BestBuy only get something like 5-17 a week.

  18. Anonymous Coward

    But remember that hand held scanners are not the bees knees!

    Hmmm, the chap in the picture looks very similar to one of the dudes from the second alien movie (Aliens), where a similar tool was used to search for the bad guys (bad aliens).

    I seem to remember that this did not really end up very well for all concerned, Aliens, humans, the natty armored car, the little township, the "nice" android, ripley's hairdoo, the "game over man.." marine etc..

    So we end up with people who just depend on the technology (and no other clues), thus making it potentially easier to fake them out. hmmm could we be there now?

  19. John A Blackley

    So far you've all missed the point

    The only relevant phrase in the whole piece was, "still very developmental" which - in US IT terms is the exact equivalent of, "half-assed idea we tossed around while we were out drinking".

  20. Anonymous Coward

    backscatter X-ray

    This sounds like backscatter X-ray imaging, which can be done

    with very X-ray power. I.e. safe.

    There are already truck-scale backscatter imagers, maybe the

    breakthrough is a collimator, etc. that will work in a handheld


  21. Rick Brasche

    it's only "half assed" and "out there"..

    ..until something works. Real crazy sh*t, like explosives that used metal instead of gunpowder-how stupid an idea is that? *Every* non-American w@nker knows it has to burn to explode! And the idea of lobbing 'em across oceans? Pure stupidity! There's no air up there so how could these rocket things burn?

    Burning stuff with light? what are you guys smoking? and what idiot would tell me you can communicate and store pictures and music with this thing? I thought you said it burned stuff! You can't even keep your stories straight!

    And let's not even get into worldwide communications systems that use only two signal states to send information-that can manage to take different physical routes automatically-insane! Now you're gonna tell me you have a plan that allows this to run on normal telephone wires? Or thru my television cable? And with enough speed to dump the equivalent of the entire Library of Congress in less than my lifetime?

    What a bunch of stupid @sshats to spend taxpayer money on such pie in the sky concepts. Shame on guys like Vannevar and Orville and the rest of people who obviously bilked the taxpayers!.

    Because whether you like it or not, the only difference between a crazy idea and a revolutionary one is making it work. And that takes money. The technologies that might get mankind off of fossil fuels, that could give mankind the stars, or that could change the very definitions of what it means to be self-aware, are only going to be found by trying crazy things, spending money on fantasies. That's how you find out if the "fantasy" category is the truth or your own prejudices. There will be failures, false starts, and complete fraud. But without chancing those, there can never be success.

    Imagine how stupid a nation would feel, if another finally figured out something like psychic phenomena, categorically proving it's use and existence once and for all. The only guarantee about this sort of research: if you don't research, you definitely will never understand. Doesn't mean that research will ever bring understanding, but it gives you a chance.

    Save the hate. You are all, every single one of you, benefitting from wacky research right now that paid off, that would never have occurred if people like you were in charge. many are even benefitting from *failed* research that simply opened new avenues and ideas.

  22. John A Blackley

    @Rick Brasche

    "the only difference between a crazy idea and a revolutionary one is making it work."

    Yeah, Rick, and the only difference between me and my prefered lifestyle is several million dollars/pounds/euros.

    I take your point that, without investment and research we would still be shivering in our caves. However, my point was not that this latest piece of blue-sky technology is impossible to develop. My point was that the comments beng offered were being offered as it the technology actually exists today or may exist in the very near future.

  23. david Silver badge

    Can't focus X-rays = need multi-cell sensor

    It's difficult to focus x-rays: They just go through things without slowing down, the refractive index is so low that you need a huge heavy lens-thing. So the only practical way to get some idea of the three-dimensional structure of a target is to move the sensor - tomagraphy - or, now that sensors are cheaper, use multiple sensors.

  24. Mr Larrington
    Paris Hilton

    Arthur Daley said it best

    The world is your lobster, Terence!

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