Palm-sized weapon in the fight against IEDs

U. MICHIGAN (US)—Portable detectors small enough to be hidden under a table or even in a flower pot could be the next line of defense in protecting soldiers from improvised explosive devices.

Designed by engineering students at the University of Michigan, the detectors work via a wireless sensor network that conveys to a base station where suspicious objects are located and who might be carrying them. Compared with existing technology, the sensors, which weigh about two pounds, are cheaper to produce, use less power, and offer a longer detection range.

Students undertook the project under the direction of Nilton Renno, a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences.

“Their invention outperforms everything that exists in the market today,” says Nilton Renno. “The combination of a movable command center with a wireless sensor network can be easily deployed in the field and adapted to different situations.”

The core technology is based on a magnetometer, or metal detector, explains engineering student Ashwin Lalendran.

“We built it entirely in-house—the hardware and the software,” Lalendran says. “Our sensors are small, flexible to deploy, inexpensive, and scalable. It’s extremely novel technology.”

The students’ device was put to the test at an Air Force–sponsored competition at Ohio State University, where simulated IEDs and the students’ technologies were hidden among the crowd. The goal was to detect IEDs in purses, backpacks, and other packages without the owners’  knowledge.

Air Force research labs across the country sponsor similar contests on a regular basis to provide innovative solutions to the Department of Defense’s urgent needs, says Capt. Nate Terning, director of rapid reaction projects at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

“Successful ideas from each student team can be combined into a product that is then realized for DoD use in the future,” he explains.

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