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Moving Mac’s microwave radar technology to the global marketplace

With MILO's assistance, Natalia Nikolova's concealed weapon detection technology is on its way to commercialization
Moving Mac’s microwave radar technology to the global marketplace

From Natalia Nikolova's lab: the blue foam forms an anechoic chamber designed to absorb electromagnetic waves so outside sources do not interfere with the readings during the research.


Danelle D’Alvise, Research Communications
July 17, 2015

Since 1958 the North American Treaty Organization – better known as NATO – has been providing funding to researchers through their Peace and Security program to tackle the growing range of global security challenges.

With the assistance of the McMaster Industrial Liaison Office (MILO), electrical and computer engineering professor Natalia Nikolova has become the first McMaster researcher in a decade to receive NATO funding for a 3-year project to develop a “smart” radar system able to detect concealed weapons and security threats.

Nikolova – the Canada Research Chair in High-Frequency Electromagnetics – will study how microwave radar signals sent from either rigged vests or tripods can be used to detect trouble as far as 15 metres away and send early warning signals of pending danger. These devices could be used anywhere from borders to airports, at crowded public events, or in busy public spaces such as hotels, subways or train stations.

The microwave radar technology stemmed from research Nikolova conducted from 2010-2013, initially with Defence Research & Development Canada, an agency of Canada’s Department of National Defence and a national leader in security science and technology.

After receiving significant funding from NSERC’s Strategic Grants Program to further develop and test her cognitive microwave radar detection system, Nikolova was ready to move to the next level to capture its commercialization potential. In the spring of 2014, Nikolova disclosed the technology to MILO, who then worked to secure an industry partner to bolster Nikolova’s application to NSERC’s Idea to Innovation (I2I) program.

The industry partner? Smiths Detection, a division of the Smiths Group, one of the world’s leading global technology companies for threat and contraband detection that has been listed on the London Stock Exchange for more than a century.

With offices in more than 50 countries, making connections with companies like Smiths provides a potential pipeline for the technology’s commercialization.  MILO has also linked up with both of Smiths’ American and German offices for their expertise in the millimeter-wave detection field.

The multinational company’s substantive letter of support for Nikolova’s detection system provided the ‘slam dunk’ for MILO’s technology transfer portion of the I2I application, ultimately helping to secure the one-year (2014-2015) $125,000 Phase I Idea to Innovation grant.

The subsequent application to NATO’s Peace and Security program in the fall of 2014 was a natural fit, satisfying NATO’s focus on enhancing engagement with partner countries.  Nikolova was awarded a $766,300 grant that will provide funding for three years, developing the NATO member’s (Canada) technology, with partner country Ukraine.

Beginning in July, Nikolova will be working on the project with colleagues from the National Technical University of Ukraine (Kyiv Polytechnic Institute) with eventual testing of the new devices taking place at Kyiv International Airport in Ukraine.

MILO has protected the technology in Canada, US, Europe and the Ukraine, by filing patents in each country. Often, patents or other forms of Intellectual Property (IP) protection can provide a strong economic incentive for a company to license McMaster technology.

“MILO has been great in supporting our efforts related to the IP protection of the technologies we develop and in attracting attention and funding from the private sector. Our special thanks go to Paul Grunthal (one of MILO’s business development managers) whose enthusiasm and expert advice has been invaluable.” says Nikolova.


 With files from Monique Beech, Faculty of Engineering

For more information about Professor Natalia Nikolova’s research and media coverage of the NATO project: