High-tech bomb sniffer finds hidden landmines (USA)

A prototype underground explosives detector that was manufactured in an Albemarle County factory is helping Army troops clear deadly minefields overseas.


A prototype underground explosives detector that was manufactured in an Albemarle County factory is helping Army troops clear deadly minefields overseas.
Mounted on the front of an armored, blast-resistant vehicle called a Husky, the Visor2500 system is providing soldiers with real-time, three-dimensional images of anything buried underground. As the Husky drives over minefields, it uses ground-penetrating radar to produce a color image on the vehicle's monitor of any underground metal or plastic landmines.

"It's supporting our troops as we speak and saving lives," said Chuck Orbell, vice president for business development of NIITEK Inc., a Sterling-based defense contractor that has a 14,000-square-foot manufacturing facility near the Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport.
Orbell declined to say if the Visor2500 mine detection device was deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, though both countries have struggled with the hazardous task of clearing land mines.

A 2006 survey of Iraq found 663 square miles thought to be contaminated with landmines or unexploded ordnance, affecting 1,577 communities with a total population of more than 2.7 million people, according to the International Committee to Ban Landmines.
Afghanistan had 285 casualties from landmines in 2006, according to the anti-landmine group. A 2007 survey found 279 square miles with landmines or unexploded bombs, affecting 2,387 communities that are home to 17 percent of Afghanistan's population.

Worldwide, there are 127 million landmines in 55 countries, according to one estimate.
When clearing a minefield, the standard practice is to methodically map the location of landmines via handheld metal detectors. Buried metal makes a tone in the minesweeper's headphones, showing that an explosive hazard might be buried below. With NIITEK's technology, Orbell said, the process is more accurate, faster and safer.
"It's the difference between Morse code and television," he said.

NIITEK - which stands for Non-Intrusive Inspection Technology Inc. - was founded in 2000 and opened its Albemarle County facility in 2006. It won a $6.5 million defense contract in 2006 to develop its Husky-mounted system. Over the past two years, the mine-detecting equipment has been tested at Fort A.P. Hill in Caroline County, at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland and at the Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona. The company's motto: "Before the first step."

Now that NIITEK's first device is in use by the military, its executives believe the technology's success will lead to more lucrative defense contracts down the road. Chief Operating Officer Juan Navarro said he expects additional production orders by the end of the year, sparking annual growth rates of 50 percent to 60 percent for the company. In the next 18 months, he said, the Charlottesville-area facility will probably grow from 14 employees to more than 20.

"We project substantial growth," Navarro said.
The firm's mine-detection technology may eventually find a market outside the U.S. military. It may one day be marketed to anti-landmine humanitarian groups. Plus, governments might want to rely on the detectors to test the integrity of roads, bridges or railways.
NIITEK's local facility opened its doors Monday to take U.S. Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr., R-Rocky Mount, on a tour.

"What you're developing and making here will be a big assistance to those in Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world," Goode told the company's employees.
As part of the visit, Goode and NIITEK's chief technology officer, Mark Hibbard, stepped out into the parking lot and took a ride in a golf cart-like vehicle with a landmine detector attached to its front.
Hibbard showed Goode how the ground-penetrating radar mapped out a 3-D image of the asphalt below the cart.
"No buried treasure here," Goode said.

Von: 11.08.2008, www.dailyprogress.com by Brian Mc Neil

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