Finding the Bodies

By Adam Stone

June 05, 2006

Detecting motion is great — but how about locating people to rescue, even through several tons of debris? UltraVision uses ultrawideband for that very purpose.

Some security companies have scored points with law enforcement by using ultrawideband (UWB) technology to pick out bad guys hiding behind walls. Bill Lozon figures his company can do them one better.

As spokesman for UltraVision Security Systems, he describes a low-spectra UWB system capable of detecting motion as subtle as a chest rising and falling under 20 feet of rubble and debris.

This LifeLocator system could change the rules not just in security but also in disaster recovery, he said. "Search and rescue people today have a whole plethora  of systems they can use. But for a person who is completely pinned or unconscious, those other methods become extremely time consuming or not effective at all."

UltraVision's highly sensitive technology takes UWB out of the realm of straight law enforcement, Lozon said, opening new commercial vistas. "We can do [law enforcement], but we have decided the revenue opportunities are potentially very good in the institutional and commercial sector," he said. "Plus there are already people doing law enforcement. We wanted to blaze new ground."

UWB motion detection technology has sometimes fallen short in the commercial sector on account of false positives. Each time a raccoon trips a sensor there is the potential for a costly deployment of resources. Or, if an operator decides not to follow up, a true security breach can go undetected.

Lozon says the answer lies in being able to customize the "bad guy" parameters. To this end, UltraVision's UltraSensor can be configured to classify an object according to its mass: Small animal, human, vehicle. The system also can detect the intruder's velocity. A small animal at slow speeds will trigger a different response than a running human or a speeding vehicle.

Thanks to UWB, the system also can be safeguarded at a higher level. Designed to be installed underground or embedded in walls, it's safe from weather and impervious to tampering.

Clearly there is money to be made on this end of the business, since office buildings and other institutional users always are in need of reliable security. But it's the search and rescue technology that is likely to garner attention in our world of terror threats and mine cave-ins.

The system comes with a healthy pedigree, as UltraVision's parent company Geophysical Survey Systems has for some time provided early versions of the technology to the Israeli military as well as to China and Japan. Surprisingly, though, these international credentials have little if any impact on the company's ability to break into the domestic market with its $22,000 devices. Basically, U.S.-based search-and-rescue teams want to see U.S. references.

"The search and rescue community is a close knit group. They know each other. A lot of these guys, they have worked side by side on a debris pile and they trust each other," Lozon said. "They want to see one another's evaluations and they want to see someone they know who has plunked their money down."

Nor is this the only hurdle to entering the search and rescue market. Lozon notes the consolidation of buying power among different disaster-recovery agencies. "Major cities hardly buy anything on their own anymore," he explained. Instead, regions and counties will purchase in bulk for all their constituents.

That sounds like good news. I should be easier to market a product to one big client rather than to lots of little ones, right? Actually, no. This is government, after all, and government rarely gets more efficient as it gets larger. "It takes forever to get things through a budgetary process," Lozon said. "There are a whole lot of influencers who get to say no, but very few people who have the ability to say yes."

The net result is a sales cycle that can last six to 12 months.

Still, Lozon seems confident that his company's field-tested UWB technology will ultimately make inroads into the security realm as well as into the search-and-rescue community, both of which are always looked for better ways to peer into the darkness and see what might be lurking – or still breathing – behind the wall.

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