New X-Ray Machines to Make Job Easier For Bomb Techs

By Stew Magnuson

Micro-X photo

AQABA, Jordan — Among the several new defense and security products Australian companies featured at the recent SOFEX exhibition in Jordan were next-generation x-ray machines that promise to make life easier for explosive ordnance disposal personnel.

Micro-X Ltd., based near Adelaide, Australia, has been making inroads in a variety of sectors with its lighter, smaller and more rugged x-ray machines.

Traditional machines use tubes that convert electrical input power into x-rays. They are made of tungsten and become hot, requiring oil to keep them cool, said Shaun Graham, product line manager at the company.

“Ours uses carbon nanotube technology, therefore it doesn’t overheat,” he said on the sidelines of the Middle East’s largest trade show devoted to special operations.

The new material results in a dramatic reduction in size and weight, he said. For example, medical x-ray machines weigh as much as 1,985 pounds. The Micro-X Rover machines weigh about 176 pounds, meaning they can be wheeled between rooms at a hospital instead of making patients leave their beds.

As for applications in the defense and security market, the company is developing, with funding from the Australian Defence Force, a hand-carried x-ray scanner for bomb disposal technicians who want to peer inside unexploded ordnance or abandoned bags that may contain improvised explosive devices.

“We’re able to deploy our system on a robot and send it downrange and negate the need for a bomb technician to approach a suspect device,” he said.

The new “IED X-Ray Camera,” which will be on the market starting in December, is light enough to be carried by a medium-sized ground robot.

Further, the next-generation x-ray technology has eliminated the need for an EOD technician to place a panel or plate, behind the object for the x-rays to bounce off and provide an image. It uses backscatter technology to return the picture.

Technicians have a graphic user interface to help them see and interpret the images, which could also be illegal drugs or other organic matter.

“Another unique thing about the software is we can use a measuring tool to see exactly how far a component is inside a device,” he said.

A technician could then determine the location of the power source inside the bomb, he said.

The imager can rotate, pan, zoom and do on-screen measurements. It can be connected over the internet to several existing applications and tool kits that help technicians interpret what they are seeing. Date and time stamps are saved in case images will be needed for evidence, he said.

The company worked closely with the Australian Defence Force and special weapons and tactics teams to design the system for ease of use and to reduce the “cognitive load,” he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has awarded two research-and-development contracts totaling $4.5 million to see if the technology could be used in passenger or baggage screening for the Transportation Security Administration.

The first contract called for Micro-X to develop a working prototype. The second contract calls for a second prototype to be developed as TSA tests the first one, a press release said.

The goal is to develop a passenger self-screening checkpoint, the statement said.

The company has a satellite office in Seattle with about 50 employees, Graham noted. It recently provided its Rover medical x-ray machines to the Seattle Mariners baseball team so they could do instant assessments of injuries.

Eleven Rovers have also made their way to Ukraine where they are being used to diagnose those wounded in the war, Graham said.


Topics: International, Global Defense Market, Emerging Technologies

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