Researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology have received $4.465 million to improve methods for sensor work on the battlefield.
The funding was approved by Congress and awarded through the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to Missouri S&T, where researchers on campus are developing technology that can detect the presence of various chemicals, electronic signatures and human activity.
U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson helped secure the funding for the project in the fiscal year 2010 Defense Appropriations Act. “Missouri S&T is developing the cutting edge technology to monitor high risk areas and aid our military men and women in their efforts,” says Emerson. “This funding will save American lives in dangerous places around the world.”
Missouri S&T’s methods center on networks of motes — wireless devices that look like computer chips. Each pocket-sized mote can sense and process a huge amount of information, and then relay that information to other motes in the network.
Dr. Jagannathan Sarangapani, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at S&T and principal investigator for the project, says the motes are capable of sharing information with each other and even interacting with existing Wi-Fi networks to spread messages. In the battlefield, the motes would be deployed in dangerous areas to effectively “listen in the wind” for evidence that someone is in a sensitive or restricted area.
A network of sensor-equipped motes, ranging into the hundreds in a given area, would be able to track activity. “Along a supply route, for instance, we could mount the motes on telephone poles,” Sarangapani says. “They would seek each other out to share information, and sometimes the information might even be transported through other devices like cell phones or laptops.”
A very important aspect of the research, Sarangapani adds, is network security. The researchers want to make sure valuable information about possible hostile activities is kept out of the wrong hands.
Each mote costs about $30 to produce — but the cost will go down dramatically as more are needed. Sarangapani says the chips could eventually be miniaturized to the point where they are practically the size of dust particles. He envisions the technology being used in airports and in a wide variety of different industries.
Missouri S&T is working with two small businesses to help make the technology more feasible: KalScott Engineering Inc. in Lawrence, Kan., and Avetec Inc. in Springfield, Ohio. The University of Cincinnati is also involved.
Working with Sarangapani are nine other Missouri S&T researchers: Dr. Hai Xiao, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dr. Reza Zoughi, professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dr. Maciej Zawodniok, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dr. Rosa Zheng, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dr. Chengshan Xiao, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dr. Sahra Sedigh, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering; Dr. Sanjay Madria, associate professor of computer science; Dr. Levent Acar, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; and Dr. Sriram Chellappan, assistant professor of computer science.