Long Beach company, UM at forefront of land mine detection technology

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Published: May 29,2000

Research being done at the engineering firm Planning Systems Inc. (PSI) in Long Beach and at the University of Mississippi in Oxford has the potential to save lives and prevent injuries around the world in war-torn areas.

“Here are two Mississippi organizations that are on the forefront of mine detection technology, one with ground-penetrating radar (GPR) and the other with acoustics detection,” said Dr. Marshall Bradley, assistant vice president and technical director of PSI’s environmental science division.”I find it fascinating that it has happened in Mississippi.”

PSI’s engineering prototype development center in Long Beach has a variety of different projects underway including development of GPR for the U.S. Army. This month PSI will turn the mine detector over to the Army for further testing and improvements. The company is also negotiating a new contract with the Army’s Night Vision Laboratory for continued research and development of the technology.

Also, plans are being made to merge PSI’s ground-penetrating radar with a system invented by Dr. James Sabatier, a scientist at the National Center for Physical Acoustics at Ole Miss, that hunts buried land mines based on acoustics. Bradley said the combined technology could result in a virtually foolproof mine detector that would pinpoint both anti-personnel and anti-tank mines with unparalleled accuracy.

“By putting the two systems together, it may be that one system can detect mines that the other one would miss,” he said. “We’d also be able to cover more ground with fewer false alarms. A joint system offers many advantages, and we hope to move forward with it in the coming months.”

Dr. Henry Bass, director of the National Center for Physical Acoustics at Ole Miss, said they became involved in mine detection technology in an indirect way. They were studying airborne sound going into the Earth as a purely scientific venture. When they found out how effective the technology was, they began to consider potential applications. A colleague at the Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg suggested applying the technology to the detection and imaging of buried land mines.

Bass said the technology is similar to what is used to do a fetal scan on a pregnant woman. Sound is generated that bounces off the mine, giving images that can be used to determine the shape, diameter and protrusions on the mine.

“It is really nice for someone trying to deactivate mines because it allows you to precisely tell what kind of mine it is, and what kind of trigger it has,” Bass said.

Bass said working on the technology is a mixed blessing. It is rewarding to be working on a project that could prevent people, including children, from losing a limb. But there is a great deal of pressure to refine the technology so it can be put into operation.

Thus far the GPR has shown the most promise on larger anti-tank mines, a major concern of the U.S. Army. The acoustics mine detector can detect both anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.

Bass said the goal of their research is not only to save lives, but also promote economic development, giving something back to the taxpayers who support the university by providing jobs and local industry.

Currently four engineers are engaged in the work at PSI with the project that has an economic impact of about $500,000 per year. Bradley said if tests continue to be successful and the technology is incorporated into an actual military system, it is possible that manufacturing could be done in Mississippi. At the manufacturing stage the economic impact would be greater than it is at the research and development state.

Bradley said mine detection is a worldwide concern that has attracted a great deal of attention in recent years.

“We saw an opportunity to make a major contribution through ground-penetrating radar technology developed and refined by PSI’s engineers,” he said. “We have been extremely pleased with the results and anticipate further success with renewed funding.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

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