Bad things can come in tiny packages. Th e post- 9/11 anthrax mailings drove that point home in a dramatic manner.
Fortunately, America has a new sentinel on duty—the Tactical Biological Detector (TAC-BIO), an aerosol biological detector that has redefined the state-of-the-art with its small, low-cost, low-power design. The TAC-BIO team started with a well-known detection principle—namely, that airborne biological agents excited by certain ultraviolet light will fluoresce and scatter light in a specific and identifiable manner—and then improved nearly every element of the long-standing detection technique.
TAC-BIO is a truly man-portable unit. Compared to competing technologies, TAC-BIO has a 50% smaller footprint, weighs 80% less, consumes only 4% as much power, and manages all of this in a cost-effective platform. Previous fluorescent detection systems required expensive, high-powered ultraviolet lasers. The TAC-BIO team eschewed the tried-and-true laser sources and instead built their device on semiconductor ultraviolet optical sources (SUVOS).
The effort yielded five patents, novel optics, a unique air intake system, and a new optical interrogation technique.
They developed an entirely new front-end assembly with a novel airflow system to pull air into the detector unit where the SUVOS laser device illuminates the sample. Any biological particle present will fluoresce and scatter a portion of the light. Novel mirrors and other optics focus the resulting fluorescence and scatter onto a detector, where a unique photon-counting technique is used to quantify the results for analysis by an onboard icroprocessor. Audible and visible alarms are sounded if the unit reaches threshold levels of detection.
The Edgewood Chemical Biological Center licensed TAC-BIO to General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products and to Research International, Inc. One technology transfer recipient has already completed a substantial commercial sale and is poised for a follow-on deal. Both recipients are on or ahead of their development and sales schedules.
Of critical importance to the Department of Defense is that one licensee is a candidate for a $117 million U.S. military acquisition. The technology emerged from the creative and unique collaboration of nine researchers from a large federal lab, industry, and academia working to build a new sensor from the ground up around a novel laser light source. The effort yielded five patents, novel optics, a unique air intake system, and a new optical interrogation technique. TAC-BIO is designed to detect airborne biomaterials, with an emphasis on bio-threat agents such as anthrax.