Sensing danger

Detecting explosive hazards
Detecting Explosive Hazards
US Navy technician inspects a disrupted improvised explosive device (IED).

Since 2008, explosive hazard attacks in Afghanistan have wounded or killed nearly 10,000 US soldiers. Worldwide, explosive hazards, on average, cause 310 deaths and 833 injuries per month. Timothy Havens aims to reduce these numbers by developing methods to find these hazards by combining information from multiple types of sensors, including ground-penetrating radars and cameras.

Havens investigates signal processing and machine learning, focusing on computational intelligence (sometimes called artificial intelligence) algorithms that can perform tasks autonomously. His research team develops algorithms that automatically detect and locate explosive hazards using two different systems: a vehicle-mounted multi-band ground-penetrating radar system and a handheld multi-modal sensor system. “Each of these systems employs multiple sensors, including different frequencies of ground-penetrating radar, magnetometers and visible-spectrum cameras. We are creating methods that integrate the sensor information in order to automatically find the explosive hazards. Our imaging and detection methods provide a 150% improvement in a standard area-under-ROC (receiver operating characteristic) analysis,” he adds.

“Recently, the Army has begun testing a forward- looking system that combines L-band and X-band radar arrays. Our team is also focused on developing imaging and detection methods for this sensor-fused system,” he explains.

In another project, Havens is collaborating with other researchers from Michigan Tech and the Michigan Tech Research Institute (MTRI) to create a sensor-fused platform for inspecting transportation infrastructure, such as roadways and bridges, from an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). His research team has developed a UAV sensor pod that combines information from Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR), camera, and inertial sensors to measure three-dimensional information about road and bridge surfaces. “This project will revolutionize how transportation inspection is performed, both speeding up the process and also significantly improving the safety of transportation workers,” he says.