Army develops low-cost next generation biological detector
July 15, 2013
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (July 17, 2013) -- Accurately identifying biological threats in order to safeguard U.S. soldiers against them is a capability the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center has provided the national defense community for years. Now, the Center has developed a next generation tactical biological detector that reduces technology costs, saves production time and uses a power source that is more energy efficient.
The TAC-BIO II detector costs 80 percent less and weighs three times less than its predecessor, which was licensed to General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products in 2009 and to Research International, Inc. in 2010.
Since then, ECBC and these organizations have collaborated through a patent licensing agreement, a cooperative research and development agreement and a partnership intermediary agreement. Such technology transfer mechanisms partnered ECBC expertise and facilities with industry technology to further develop the original TAC-BIO prototype into a next generational chemical detector that is weatherproof and uses advanced detection algorithms to reduce false alarms.
With funding from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, ECBC was able to produce the TAC-BIO II for just $2,000. New features include deeper UV light sources developed by DAPRA that allow the detector to identify lower concentrations and smaller aerosol particles.
This capability is built from the original TAC-BIO prototype, which used DARPA's revolutionary Semiconductor Ultraviolet Optical Sources and unique front-end assembly with a novel airflow system to pull air into the detector where a light illuminates, or fluoresces, if an agent is present.
ECBC's state-of-the-art machine shop worked closely with the comprehensive TAC-BIO II team to create new working parts for the detector. ECBC was able to dramatically reduce the overall weight of the product by inserting plastic-coated aluminum mirrors that replaced the heavy metal ones previously used. The lighter parts were produced on an injection molding machine, which heats pellets and granules of plastic into a molten form before injecting it into a mold. Once it is cooled to proper temperatures, the mold opens and ejects the finished part.
"The process is similar to squeezing play dough through the forming shapes when you were a kid, but much more sophisticated. The molds were made here in our shop and have been shot over 700 times," said Richard Kreis, an ECBC senior engineering technician.
"What we are able to do here at ECBC is unique. We collaborated closely with our engineering team and fine-tuned these pieces as we went to perfect them. No other Army laboratory has this capability onsite," he said.
The TAC-BIO II continues to be developed at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., where ECBC is located. It is scheduled to be demonstrated in the fall of 2013. As part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, the Center shares the vision of becoming the premier source of integrated solutions that empower the national defense community and protect the Warfighter against chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives threats.
"A network of TAC-BIOs could work as an early detection system against a biological attack," said Aime Goad, ECBC engineer. "The TAC-BIO is so light and affordable that units can be sent into the field for troops to place on vehicles in forward units."
Goad was part of original TAC-BIO team, which was led by ECBC chemist David Sickenberger, who was determined to build a lighter, low-cost biological detector that would be an affordable means to accurate detect a biological agent attack. Sickenberger retired last year after 31 years of federal service, but Goad and the TAC-BIO II team have continued to develop the technology that may also prove beneficial outside of the military realm.
First responders and hospitals may someday be able to treat a person suffering from an unknown illness in their ambulance or emergency room with the help of a TAC-BIO II detector that could alert emergency personnel to don personnel protective equipment to prevent exposure while treating the patient. The detectors could also be used in school systems to alert students, teachers and faculty to a potential threat and give them enough time to seek a safe place outside of a dangerous environment.
ECBC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.