CSIR develops explosion detection system


The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed an explosion detection and active mitigation system designed to protect against threats such as landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The technology detects the start of a detonation and provides a trigger signal to an Active Mitigation System (AMS) such as a water bomb to neutralise the effect of the detonation.

The CSIR explained that the technology consists of sensor hardware to detect a detonation in progress, signal processing electronics that implement a unique algorithm for discriminating between background signals, and electronics that issue a trigger signal to the AMS within 67 microseconds (67 millionths of a second) from the start of the detonation.

The technology was made possible by the availability of sophisticated equipment and unique infrastructure at the CSIR, the Council said.

The target market for the technology is armoured vehicle manufacturers who supply to defence forces in developed and developing countries. The technology, coupled with an appropriate AMS, can be fitted to new armoured vehicles or retrofitted to existing ones. Users could include the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), international militaries, counter-terrorism groups and coalition forces like the United Nations or NATO.

The user would require a system that can detect a landmine (or other buried charge) detonation in progress and issue a timeous trigger signal to an AMS to neutralise or significantly reduce the threat. The ultimate benefit is to the soldiers inside the vehicle being better protected against serious injury, the CSIR said.

The CSIR believes that such a system is fairly unique with literature searches for active mitigation systems over the past few years revealing no similar detection systems. The CSIR said that detection systems do exist for flying threats such as rocket-propelled grenades, but not for close-in explosive threats such as landmines and IEDs.

However, companies like South Africa’s ExploSpot do manufacture fire and explosion detection and suppression systems for military and industrial applications, especially in mines where methane and coal dust explosions are common. ExploSpot’s Automatic Fire and Explosion Suppression System (AFESS), for example, has been used in different applications since 1998, including underground mining operations, commercial and military vehicles and for gas pipeline protection.

Nevertheless, the CSIR believes its system is unique in that it combines sensors and a unique algorithm that detects the detonation within 67 microseconds in severe conditions.

Additional testing for fine-tuning and determination of the false alarm rate of the system still needs to be done but the system is fairly mature, with a prototype tested in a real environment.

“The technology needs integration with an active mitigation system (third party) and testing of the complete mitigation system, to move on to industrialisation. A general electronics manufacturing partner would be recommended. The CSIR is able to conduct specialised tests at its Detonics, Ballistics and Explosives Laboratory with sophisticated and unique apparatus and techniques,” the Council said.

The CSIR has previously done work on the detection of coal dust explosions. Research found that when an explosion starts, it requires a reaction speed of 120-150 milliseconds to halt it. After an explosion is detected, gas or powder (including monoammonium phosphate) can be released to stop it.