By ECBC Communications
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — First responders occasionally come across suspicious powders, requiring them to have technology on hand to screen samples and identify whether or not they are a chemical or biological agent.
Current technology performs a test to determine whether or not protein exists on the sample, an indication that the sample is live, or active. With this technology, specificity is low, false positives are common and the cost is very high: one test costs $26.
Researchers at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, or ECBC, are seeking alternate technology that is more effective and lower in cost. Originally funded by Section 219 funds, an ECBC effort designed to encourage innovative applied research, with additional funding from the Department of Homeland Security, the team evaluated existing technology to find a device that was close to field ready and determine what it would take to get it into the hands of a Soldier or a first responder.
The ECBC team evaluated several pre-screening technologies and found that while many could be useful for detecting a biological threat, ongoing issues with low specificity and false positives require additional costly research to determine an accurate diagnosis. During their research of existing technology, ECBC scientists came across a Cara Technology Limited Report (report 30606) which discussed the use of adenosine triphosphate-based technology to look for contamination on food surfaces.
Adenosine triphosphate, or ATP, is one of the main providers of energy to cells, and every reproducible organism has it. Historically, it was thought that spores do not have traceable amounts of ATP on their surface, but recent findings have indicated otherwise.
“This is exciting because it gives us a new avenue to research technologies that can screen suspicious powders much more effectively than what’s currently on the market for first responders,” said James Wright, a chemist with ECBC’s BioSciences Division. “A lot of assumptions were made 50 years ago that aren’t holding up. We’re finding now that we can screen at several orders of magnitude lower than previously thought.”
One of the systems the team chose to evaluate is the 3M Clean Trace Surface ATP technology, which meets the criteria they were looking for: Simple, compact and cost-efficient. Another key component is that the start-up costs are comparable to that of the current technology, but each test is only $3 a swab. That is 10 percent of the recurring costs of what is currently used, which is a significant long-term cost savings.
The team will continue to evaluate other ATP-based systems. According to Wright, the goal is identify the right equipment that should be in the hands of first responders or Soldiers, and ATP-based technology could be the best tool to augment what is currently on the market. One of the most significant benefits of the ATP technology is that if a test is negative, first responders know the sample is not a threat. With the current technology, a positive result can occur if any protein is present, even if it is harmless.
“That’s the issue with the current detector. If it’s an innocuous powder that contains protein, it will still read as positive so you have to shut down the area and send the sample to the reference lab — and the lab or office is shut down for this entire period of time,” Wright said. “Processed or highly refined biological products, like protein powder or powdered creamer, don’t have ATP but do contain protein. So if the ATP test comes up negative, we know that the sample is not active or alive and, from a biological standpoint, we don’t have to worry about it.”
ECBC submitted a second proposal for this work, recently accepted by DHS, to continue to test the 3M technology against the strict ASTM International standards in a direct comparison to the current technology. The team is hopeful that after this one-year effort, the 3M technology will be fielded to first responders within one to two years.
Teachers use it to teach lessons. Football players study their plays on it. Now Soldiers can use the tablet computer as a one-stop device for training refreshers, an easy-to-carry installation manual, and more.
“On one small mobile device, a warfighter has a full library of information to support a device or even to support the operation of a full vehicle. If a warfighter is carrying a mobile device, the weight of his or her backpack is significantly less,” said COL Raymond Compton, Military Deputy, Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC), Edgewood, MD.
In addition to being cost-effective, the 21st-century advancements in technology, coupled with a desire to equip the warfighter with a single source for everything he or she needs, make the use of iPad applications increasingly necessary. ECBC’s Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division (ADM) Conceptual Modeling and Animation Branch, Technology and Systems Integration Branch, and Engineering Drawing Development Branch partnered to create two iPad applications. One simulates the Husky Mounted Detection System Surrogate (HMDSS), and the other re-creates the Mobile Counter Improvised Explosive Device Training (MCIT).
Both iPad applications were handed over to the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO). The MCIT and HMDSS are devices in CONUS that are intended for direct Soldier use.
In addition to being cost-effective, the 21st-century advancements in technology, coupled with a desire to equip the warfighter with a single source for everything he or she needs, make the use of iPad applications increasingly necessary.
“The Technology and Systems Integration Branch contributed to functional translation of real-world data into the virtual environment; Engineering Drawing helped with the virtual modeling; and Conceptual Modeling and Animation assisted with the software development and user interface,” said Kevin Wallace, Technology and Systems Integration Branch Chief. “The great thing about the Conceptual Modeling and Animation Branch is that they have the ability to help other branches present their visions and further the potential of their ideas.”
With the tap of a screen, warfighters can reference the full HMDSS installation manual and train themselves on the equipment. Users can practice reading the Ground Penetrating Radar, which detects metallic and nonmetallic explosive hazards, pressure plates, and antitank mines.
In HMDSS, the user simulates driving a vehicle and receiving alerts of potential threats. From there, the driver must determine a course of action to ensure safety. All simulations are based on events that could actually happen. Additionally, the HMDSS application allows the user to go on virtual route clearance missions and includes a full user manual for the vehicle.
While the HMDSS application has all of the same functions as the vehicle and provides a detailed model of it, Conceptual Modeling and Animation Branch Chief Jeff Warwick said the iPad application is best used to refresh actual in-person training, not replace it.
“Maybe it’s been a few months between the in-person training, and a warfighter is about to operate the HMDSS vehicle again and needs a quick reminder. Rather than getting in an actual vehicle that may not be available for practice, the warfighter can pick up a simple device and train from wherever he is,” Warwick said.
This application simulates an MCIT, which is a series of four modified 40-foot Conex boxes set up in a series to educate warfighters on IEDs. Each station gives tips on how to identify IEDs, in addition to hands-on scenario training that uses narratives and role-playing to guide the warfighter from station to station. The entire system is interactive and equipped to give warfighters hands-on, self-paced training. Re-creating the MCIT with all of its capabilities on an iPad has paved the way for a more cost-effective approach to training.
In addition to being a cheaper and more convenient option for frequent training, Compton said mobile applications can bridge the gap between younger warfighters who grew up in an electronic world and their older counterparts.
“The Soldiers of today were raised playing with video games and virtual equipment like Xbox and iPads. Those games can be translated into a lot of useful methods for training,” he said. “It’s beneficial to take advantage of this type of intuitive knowledge the young warfighter has and capitalize that knowledge into training to help them do their mission better.”
ECBC is working to design more tablet applications that enhance the warfighter’s training experiences and make their jobs more efficient.
From ECBC Public Affairs.