The Inscentinel team gathers people from a variety of backgrounds, from academia to business and industry. Initially founded by Professor Paul Davis in 2001, at the time in charge of Innovation at Unilever, it is now led by Lucius Cary, first and main investor through his company, Oxford Technology Management and Ivan Hoo, the CEO of Inscentinel.
Inscentinel benefits from a large network of advisors such as Prof John Pickett CBE, Scientific Director of Rothamsted Centre for Sustainable Pest and Disease Management who hosted Inscentinel’s preliminary bee research within his department of Biochemical Ecology. Security expertise is provided by Norman Shanks who with 30 years of airport operations and management experience (Airport Security Manager for Heathrow Airport during 1986 – 1991 then Head of Group Security for BAA Plc) is internationally recognised as one of the world’s foremost experts in aviation security.
The Inscentinel way
The use of animals for detection of explosives can be seen in airports today. Sniffer dogs are known for its accuracy and sensitivity in identifying target threats that outperformed the most expensive electronic devices. Other mammals such as African pouched rats and dolphins have also found themselves a sniffing job. However, the ability to be trained and pick up the faintest scent is not limited to big mammals; small invertebrates such as moths, wasps and honeybees have all been trained and tested in lab showing a level of sensitivities that are far greater than of the mamals. While attempts have been made in the early 90s’ by many research groups to find ways of utilising insects in the combat against terrorist, their approach were not met with much practicality success.
In 2004, collaboration was launched between Los Alamos National Laboratory (US) and Inscentinel to develop a prototype that will allow ‘using the honeybee explosives sensor in a full electronically controlled box’. A prototype (NORP) was built and sent to Los Alamos for demonstration with the US government defence research agency (DARPA). The success of the demonstration won Los Alamos a $1.5 million dollar contract to investigate a new generation of explosives sensor – sniffer bees. Unfortunately, DARPA had a different vision at the time and that the Inscentinel way had been abandoned in favour of the free flying bee’s concept. The divided opinions set Inscentinel apart from the rest of the research community and Inscentinel has since lead the way of Bee-Detector paradigm. By 2006, DARPA announced their abandonment of free flying bees programme because it is found that their concept would not work in field.
In 2008, the concept of using honeybees in electronics detector has regained the attention . With the support of the UK Homeoffice and various government agencies, Inscentinel has developed a full set of prototypes that provide further automation in harnessing honeybees for real world application. The Vasor136 detector had impressively outperformed the state of art Ion Mobility Spectrometer in a head to head trial. It has demonstrated that the Bee-Detector way is a feasible idea; that it is cost effective and easy to use. Whilst the system had been well received, the demonstration had identified various short comings that will need to be addressed before it can be accepted for use in field. Notably, the automation of bees training was incomplete at the time and there were concerns whether if automation can ever be fully achieved.
In 2011, Inscentinel was restructured with a new management team. It is identified that the challenge facing the technology is not in detection but in creating a system that will help the customers to meet the security requirement. This means that the supply chain of sniffer bees needs to be given more thoughts; the business model needs to work for the industry; that Inscentinel needs to collaborate with both the industry and government agencies to make this system relevant and practical. Inscentinel is now working closely with the UK Homeoffice and freight security companies in the UK to develop the system for explosives and drugs detection in cargo environment.
The two co-currently running projects, PREVAIl, funded by the European Union FP7 (A £3.5 million security project led by the Swedish Defence Agency FOI); and BUZZ, a partnership with a FTSE250 company to develop our technology for their application, have allowed Inscentinel to overcome several technical challenges and bring the technology nearer to the field. The design of Automatic training unit is near to completion when IGS (A security company based in Malaysia) came on board to license the technology for South East Asia. It is now envisaged that the trials will held in the UK and Malaysia in 2015 using the local honeybees (Apis melifera melifera); and when the field trials were completed successfully, the system will first roll out in both the UK and Malaysia, and subsequently will be marketed to other countries.
 Free flying bees are trained bees left to forage freely. It is envisage that the trained bees will forage for landmines, explosives, IED in a battlefield. While the concept works well in the lab, in real environment the honeybees will forage for flower in favour of the smaller explosives targets.