Warning shot

A sticky pellet fitted with chemical sensors could be used as a bomb-detection device in Iraq, according to US military giant Lockheed Martin.

The pellet, which can be fired from a simple paintball gun and sticks to virtually any surface, detects and relays back information on bombs or hazardous chemicals.

A group of engineering students from the University of Florida invented the pellet – which is now being developed for military use by Lockheed Martin.On a tight budget, the students built a tiny circuit board fitted with basic electrical equipment – an accelerometer, transmitter and wire antenna – all powered by a watch battery.

The accelerometer, of the type used in car air bags to detect a crash, was used instead of expensive chemical sensors. The electrical equipment was encased in a plastic shell and the front end coated with a sticky industrial polymer. Weighing the front down makes the pellet fly like a dart.

The key to developing the novel device was to create a pellet solid enough to enable the electrical components to survive high-speed impact. Once the students had achieved this they used oscilloscopes and laptop computers to measure data remotely. They found that a regular paintball gun was powerful enough to fire the pellet over 20m, while the sensors proved capable of reporting information from up to 80m away.

Developers at Lockheed Martin, which funded the project, now intend to fit the pellet with sophisticated chemical sensors for battlefield use. They are also working on increasing its range by shrinking the size and weight.

Lockheed’s Leslie Kramer, director and engineering fellow for Missiles and Fire Control, said the pellet was intended for use in Iraq to locate home-made bombs.

‘A lot of these bombs are being buried in piles of trash,’ he said. ‘If you had a good chemical sensor on this projectile you could fire it into the trash and stand back and determine whether it could detect TNT leaking out of an artillery shell.’

Lockheed’s developers said the students’ achievement had gone well beyond their expectations.

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