By John McHale
WALTHAM, Mass. Experts at CyTerra Corp. in Waltham, Mass., developed a handheld land mine detector for the U.S. Army that combines ground-penetrating radar with metal detection technology, resulting in a low false alarm rate.
This capability enables soldiers to quickly and accurately detect all types of anti-tank and anti-personnel land mines, company officials say. CyTerra's detector is the result of a U.S. Army-sponsored 15-year research and development effort to find a means for reliably detecting non-metallic, plastic-cased mines.
The company recently received a three-year, $12.3 million contract for the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase of its handheld land mine detector.
Officials of the U.S. Army's Project Manager for Mines, Countermine, and Demolitions (PM-MCD), together with those at the Communications-Electronics Command Acquisition Center at Fort Belvoir, Va., awarded the contract as part of the Handheld Standoff Mine Detection (HSTAMIDS) program.
"CyTerra's system represents a true leap ahead in mine detection technology," says Larry Nee, Chief of the Countermine Division (PM-MCD). "Our goal is to significantly improve the speed and safety of mine clearance operations for U.S soldiers. This contract takes us one step closer to making that happen."
"Existing mine detectors are based on a single technology metal detection," says David H. Fine, president of CyTerra. "Our system fuses together two sensor technologies ground-penetrating radar and metal detection. By combining these two complementary methods of detection, we can simultaneously boost the sensitivity of each technology and dramatically reduce the high number of false alarms that are associated with today's land mine detectors."
The biggest design challenge CyTerra engineers faced was making the radar antenna as non-metallic as possible so it would not interfere with the metal detector, Fine says. The antenna is a foam-like composite with just enough metal for the current to flow, he explains.
There were not any tradeoffs in performance with traditional mine detectors because "we took the best from both worlds radar and metal detection," Fine says. Today's mine detectors are so precise they pick up metal as small as a pinhead, he adds. However, there is so much metal in the ground that false alarm rates can be high, Fine explains.
The radar system acts as a filter to the metal detector by eliminating all the clutter the detector might pick up, he says. For example if the device encounters a mine a foot in diameter, the radar in the system will beep one end of the mine, then beep again at the other end, Fine explains. The system emits a system of audio tones to alert soldiers to the presence of a buried land mine.
In other words the radar "will see any order in the chaos," Fine says.
Based on data collected from testing the detector in a controlled environment for the Army, the CyTerra device's false alarm rate is about five times better than that of current metal detectors, and will be even better once it is deployed, he says. Because of the relatively low false alarm rate soldiers will be able to detect mines not only more quickly, but also more safely than they can today, Fine adds.
Tests at the Army Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md., demonstrated a probability of detection near 100 percent overall for CyTerra's detector, company officials say.
MineLab in Australia developed the metal detector for CyTerra, while the radar was a CyTerra custom design, Fine says. The CyTerra detector also uses standard-issue Army batteries that last from eight to 12 hours between charges, Fine says.
The entire system is mostly a custom design; the only commercial-off-the-shelf product is the device's Palomar 2 350 MHz PowerPC single-board computer from SBS Technologies in Albuquerque, N.M., he says. The hardware for the detector was relatively low-cost, with software algorithm work making up the bulk of the development cost, Fine adds.
CyTerra engineers are trying to keep the detector's weight to seven pounds so soldiers can transport and operate the device easily, CyTerra officials say.
The device also had to be rugged enough to work in all environments where mines may be present, Fine says. The Army specified that it be able to fly at 40,000 feet and survive a drop into the field with paratroopers, he adds.
The EMD contract represents the last stage in the Army's development cycle. While several different detection technologies in various stages of development, CyTerra's system is the only dual-sensor, handheld technology being readied for full-scale production and subsequent fielding, CyTerra officials say.
Under the terms of the contract, CyTerra will finalize the detector's design and improve performance during the EMD phase CyTerra officials say. The company will then deliver 22 units to the Army for developmental and operational field testing, company officials say.
For more information on CyTerra contact the company by phone at 781-622-1368, by fax at 781-622-1370, by mail at 85 First Avenue, Waltham, Mass. 02451-1105, or on the World Wide Web at http://www.cyterracorp.com.