PORTLAND, Ore. Using sensor circuitry, a paintball gun and a "big glob of sticky polymer," undergraduate students at the University of Florida (Gainesville) have invented a device that may save the lives of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan whom agitators continue to ambush with roadside explosives.
The students devised a projectile with an electronic sensor that can be shot at suspicious objects up to 65 feet away. The sensor sends back its analysis of the targeted object to soldiers using a 450-MHz wireless transmitter.
The goal of the project, funded by Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Missiles and Fire Control group (Orlando, Fla.), "was to help our soldiers detect improvised explosives or even chemical weapons from a distance far enough away so that they would not be hurt," even if the material detonated, said Greg Ivey, an aerospace-engineering student who graduated from Gainesville this month. A soldier with a laptop computer can monitor the projectile from up to 240 feet away.
"Our results were so good that Lockheed is now rushing to develop our prototype into a device that soldiers can carry in Iraq as early as next year," said Ivey, who heads for postgrad work at Georgia Tech in the fall. Five other students of Gainesville engineering professor Loc Vu-Quoc contributed to the project: Brendan Hauser, Syed Sohaib, Felipe Sutantri, Joshua Taylor and Frederick Thompson.
"The sensor could be an ideal tool for identifying improvised explosive devices," said Leslie Kramer, director and engineering fellow at Lockheed. "Disguised homemade bombs have injured and killed scores in Iraq, but with a good chemical sensor on this projectile, you could fire it into the trash and stand back and determine whether it could detect TNT leaking out of an artillery shell."
The projectile measures 0.68 inch in diameter the exact size of the barrel of a paintball gun, which is used to shoot the projectile. The researchers initially considered using M-16-size projectiles but concluded that such bullets were too small to house their circuit board.
"A paintball gun can still fire at up to 235 feet per second which isn't bad," said Ivey. Handguns typically fire at 600 feet/s or more and rifles at up to 1,200 feet/s.
For the test, the students designed a narrow circuit board powered by a watch battery that could fit inside a tube made of high-impact plastic. The circuit board carried the sensor, its amplifier and the interface circuitry to an integrated wireless transmitter.