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TECHNOLOGY–Quantum Hailed for Land Mine Detector Called Breakthrough in Clearing Mines From Former Battlegrounds

San Diego-based Quantum Magnetics has played a key role in what is being called probably the most important technological breakthrough in land mine detection in decades.

U.S. military officials announced last week they have successfully demonstrated Quantum’s quadrupole resonance technology in land mine detection tests.

The tests included the first time viable detection of TNT was demonstrated in the field. TNT is the most common explosive used in land mines.

It’s estimated that more than 100 million land mines are buried in 64 countries. More than 2 million new land mines are laid every year.

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The annual number of children and adults killed or maimed by land mines is estimated at more than 2,000 globally.

Quantum’s quadrupole resonance technology applies a radio frequency magnetic field pulse at a frequency specific to individual explosive compounds.

When the pulse is aimed at the ground containing possible land mines, the pulse excites the molecules of any explosive present, generating a characteristic response that can be measured and identified by the system.

In the past, quadrupole resonance could not detect TNT because of a weak signal. After three years of R & D;, Quantum improved the strength of the signal in order to detect TNT.

Current land mine detectors don’t detect the actual explosive, just the metal in the mine’s case or trigger mechanism. Frequently shell fragments, spent cartridges and other metallic objects are mistaken for mines, slowing down mine removal operations and driving up their costs.

Tested In Bosnia

Many modern mines are made largely of plastic and are difficult to locate with conventional metal detection gear.

Quadrupole resonance, on the other hand, can detect what’s inside a metal or plastic shell casing.

Tests using the quadrupole resonance were conducted last December at the Army Combat Engineering School test facility at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and in Bosnia last July.

Lowell Burnett, Quantum chairman and chief technology officer, explained the technology further.

“If you’re in a battleground area, you have shell cartridges and metal fragments. With a standard metal detector, you’ll get a signal, so you have a lot of false alarms,” he said.

“In our Bosnia test, a Marine Corps sergeant used a metal detector to scan the area and it had 34 false alarms. If you really treated those as mines, then you’d have to probe the ground and very carefully dig them up. The estimated time for clearance was about seven hours. “With our device, the same Marine Corps sergeant found all the mines with no false alarms in less than 15 minutes.”

$10 Million In R & D;

The main financial backer of Quantum’s quadrupole resonance R & D; has been the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the central research and development organization for the U.S. Defense Department, which has invested $10 million in the technology during the last three years.

“This has worked beyond our wildest dreams,” Burnett said about the land mine detection technology. “Now we have to take the technology and package it in ways that are useful to the end user.”

He said Quantum is talking with Marine Corps officials about developing a backpack-style landmine detection system.

The U.S. Army has also pledged to further develop and field quadrupole resonance equipment for land mine detection on roads.

“We enter the 21st century with new optimism,” said Lt. Gen. Paul J. Kern, military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.

“Quadrupole resonance technology holds great promise for our soldiers because it will detect a mine in place and eliminate the need to conduct exceedingly dangerous manual probing. We finally have a viable solution to a problem that has indiscriminately plagued soldiers and civilians for more than six decades.”

Humanitarian Efforts

Burnett said quadrupole resonance technology can also be used for humanitarian de-mining efforts since the number of land mines across the globe is so significant.

He pointed to Bosnia, where there has been a concentrated effort by the Serbians over the last three years to clear land mines.

“They’re over there with little pointy sticks trying to find mines,” Burnett said. “In the three years they have been working, they’ve cleared 5 & #733; square miles. During that time they have lost more than 90 de-miners.”

He said while nobody really knows how much of Bosnia is covered with mines, there are about 2,700 square miles of mine fields in neighboring Croatia.

“It will take 1,380 years to clear Croatia,” Burnett said. “Our system allows the land to be cleared 10 times faster.”

Airline Bomb Detectors

Quantum, a subsidiary of Newark, N.J.-based InVision Technologies, Inc., began developing quadrupole resonance technology in 1994 for the airline industry as a means of detecting bombs in luggage.

time and they never get a chance to be a part of something like this. But quadrupole resonance, in its modern implications, is relatively new, so one can expect continuing improvements in the ability of the system.”

More improvements mean more work for Quantum, which translates to more hires, Burnett said.

“We certainly expect to be growing.”

Quantum currently has about 80 employees in San Diego.


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