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Boonsboro engineering firm works on technology to disarm IEDs

May 05, 2012|By DAN DEARTH | dan.dearth@herald-mail.com
  • Emerging Science & Technologies Group Inc President and Electrical Engineer Joe Foley, right, talks about the Boonsboro based company's $75,000 grant for their research and development of robots that will defuse IED and bombs. At rear is ES&T Electrical Engineer Walt Siering.
By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer

BOONSBORO, Md. — A Boonsboro engineering firm is pioneering research that uses radio waves to disable improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

Joe Foley, an electrical engineer and president of Emerging Science & Technologies Group Inc., said the basic concept involves disabling IEDs by using radio waves to split or severely damage wires that lead to the blasting cap.

“It duds the device,” said Foley, whose company works on the technology at a building in Boonsboro.

As of April 2, IEDs caused 3,071, or roughly 48 percent of the 6,386 American fatalities in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to figures provided by the Defense Manpower Data Center, a facility that keeps data on military personnel in the United States.

An additional 31,384 troops were wounded by IEDs, the DMDC said.

Foley said although the technology developed by his five-person team hasn’t been tested on the battlefield, the engineers have used radio waves to disable hundreds of wires in controlled settings.

“This is a young technology, even though we’ve been working on it for a long time,” Foley said. “We really haven’t invested a lot of money in this whole thing. It’s been a rather slow but astounding start. It’s a phenomena to be exploited.”

Last year, Emerging Science & Technologies Group Inc. landed about a $75,000 grant that was funded by Congress to advance the research.

Foley said his company used that money to make huge strides, but that it needs about $1 million more to refine the technology. He said he is looking for a customer to provide the financial backing to take things to the next level.

Ideally, he said, officials from the Pentagon or Department of Homeland Security will show interest in the research and call a company, such as Northrop Grumman or Lockheed Martin, to help the technology progress.

“That’s often what happens, a (Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization) or a (Department of Homeland Security) will say to one of their suppliers, ‘Hey, go look at these guys and help them out,’” Foley said. “That is where we’re at. It’s just that nobody really has any money right now. It’s really kind of unfortunate timing.”

Foley said the most important part of the technology is its potential to save lives.

In the past, coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have used rifle fire and water cannons to intentionally detonate IEDs. A more dangerous approach involves using human bomb technicians, who risk their lives by making direct contact with the lethal devices.

Foley said his method establishes a buffer because the equipment that generates the radio wave can be mounted on a robot and driven to the source.

He said another benefit is that the IED remains intact. As a result, investigators might be able to gather fingerprints and DNA to help catch the bomb makers.

Foley, who said one of his company’s past achievements was building a robot for the Las Vegas Bomb Squad, said the technology also has the potential to be used by civilian police forces.

“I don’t think there’s anybody else out there that’s doing anything with dudding — purposeful dudding of explosive devices,” Foley said. “This does look like a miracle. But do you know what a real miracle is? Getting a contract.”

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