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Australia’s “Electric Nose” Sniffs Out Graffiti Vandals On Public Trains

The high-tech “Mousetrap” can sense when graffiti vandalism is taking place, allowing train conductors to watch and make arrests in real-time.

One of Sydney's vandalized trains, via Wikipedia Commons.

Forget drug-sniffing dogs, the new tool to fight broken-windows-style crime is a cyber miracle. Recently Sydney, Australia unveiled a high-tech system called Mousetrap that literally smells out graffiti crime in real-time on public transit. With a series of sensors embedded in trains and carriages, it has quietly been used to combat defacement on public systems for over a year. It works by sensing when a graffiti assault is underway via an “electronic nose” sensor that picks up on paint fumes. An alert is transmitted to railway security, allowing them to view live-stream video of the vandalism. The rail network control room is then able to track where the crime is taking place, and undercover police officers are sent to make the arrest. The sensors are so sophisticated they can even decipher whether marker, pen, or spray paint is the medium of choice.


Sydney train station in all its graffiti-free glory.

"This is a trial,” CEO of Sydney Trains Howard Collins recently told Reuters. “We've been trialing this technology since late last year. It really has been successful. We've had over 70 instances of this kit being triggered. We've had 50 people being charged with offences. And as we roll it out now to other trains it's proving even more successful.”

Since the Mousetrap was introduced, it’s been reported that Sydney has experienced significantly less vandalism, and many if not most trains are graffiti-free.

To check out a nifty video explaining the project, check out Reuter’s YouTube page here.

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