The Basics of Explosive Detection Systems (EDS)

Definition of EDS

Explosive detection system (EDS) is a rapid, automatic system used to detect plastic explosives in passengers’ luggage or packages using X-ray technology and computers. Most systems are designed to be used in airports, ports and border control.

EDS in nature

Two of nature’s creatures have been proven to be very effective explosive detection systems. The first is man’s best friend the dog. Their very sensitive noses have proven to be very effective at detecting explosives, however, their usefulness degrades as the dog becomes bored or tired. The explosive detection canine was first used in Algeria in 1959 under the command of General Constantine.

Secondly the honey bee has also been proven to be a very effective EDS. Through the hymenoptera training and advance video computer software for monitoring, claims have been that the honey bee is more effective than the sniffer dogs.

Mechanical EDS

There is a wide variety of manmade EDS available in today’s technology ranging from mechanical to spectrometry, x-rays to neutron activation and many more.

One of these X-ray Eds models is the Xrd 3500 based on X-ray diffraction (XRD) technology which identifies material based on its molecular composition, this unit offers a highly focused screening capability on areas in bags or packages which have been identified by previous scanning as a possible threat.


Technologies based on ion mobility spectrometer (IMS) include ion trap mobility spectrometry (ITMS) and differential mobility spectrometry (DMS). Amplifying fluorescent polymers (AFP) use a molecular recognition to “turn off” or quench the fluorescence of a polymer. Chemiluminescence was used frequently in the 1990s, but is less common than the ubiquitous IMS. Several attempts are being made to miniaturize, ruggedize and make MS affordable for field applications. An example of this would be an aerosol polymer that fluoresces blue under UV but is colourless when it reacts with nitrogen groups.


A detection tag can be added to explosives to make them easier to detect. The Montreal conversation of 1991 is an international agreement requiring manufactures of explosives to do this.