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Marlborough Firm’s Laser Technology to Keep Troops Safe From IEDs

Saturday, January 05, 2013

 

Nearly 2,500 U.S. troops have lost their lives to improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in Iraq and Afghanistan. Marlborough engineering firm Block MEMS is adapting its LaserScan™ technology to help keep troops safe from the threat overseas.

Block MEMS, LLC., is an engineering and development company that focuses on the research and development of high-performance quantum cascade lasers (QCLs) and Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy, more commonly known as FTIR, which can create an infrared image of various properties of solids, liquids and gases. The company shares ownership and a headquarters with Block Engineering in Marlborough, where Block has been a a leader in the laser technology sector for commercial, industrial, military and government clients since the 1950s.

Block's LaserScan™ spectrometer is a QCL that can be used to detect and measure substances, whether solid, liquid or gas, from a distance of six inches to up to two feet. The technology's major applications are in detecting explosive materials, chemical agents and toxic industrial chemicals.

The technology is also uniquely suited to detecting recently dug-up soil from a distance, which, for U.S. troops deployed abroad, is a potential indicator of an IED on or alongside the roadway.

"Buried IEDs have been a major cause of death to our troops at our theaters of operations," said Block's CEO Petros Kotidis. "Although techniques exist to find buried objects, these techniques can often be fooled."

That's why Block MEMS has been awarded a multi-million dollar contract from the Army's Joint Improvised Device Defeat Organization to adapt its LaserScan™ spectrometer for troops to use overseas.

"Our LaserScan will provide the soldier with another important tool to avoid triggering these IEDs," Kotidis said. "This new contract will enable us to miniaturize and ruggedize to military specs the LaserScan so it can be used by dismounted soldiers. Eventually this product will also be mounted on ground vehicles, including small robots, to aid route clearance operations and protect military convoys."

Daniel J. Cavicchio, Jr., Block's Executive Chairman, said the new contract brings the company's total product development awards from the U.S. Department of Defense to over $7.8 million. Cavicchio said the contracts have come from several branches of the Department of Defense and they all stem from the ability of Block's equipment to detect materials from a distance when inches can be the difference between safety and danger.

While defense and military applications have been at the forefront of much of Block's recent work, the company noted that the new miniaturized LaserScan devices, set-up with different recognition software, will have a wide array of uses on the homefront as well. From pharmaceutical cleaning checks to surface analysis to detecting oil residues to real-time, on-line monitoring of various processes, the LaserScan units could play a variety of roles in increasingly automated domestic industries.

 

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