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Greenville is proving ground for new radar device

Alicia Knadler
Indian Valley Editor

Greenville is once again a proving ground for experiments with life-saving technologies that may be used in both humanitarian and military or homeland security applications.

This time, it wasn't an invention of renowned Greenville and Bay Area resident Bill Wattenburg, although he played a key role in bringing people together to make it happen.

In Department of Defense, law enforcement and humanitarian circles, Wattenburg is best known for his knack of finding the simplest and most economical solutions for situations with the potential to endanger many lives.

Back in 2006, his Forest Lodge was the site of experiments with his tethered scout invention, an inexpensive and easy-to-use robotic bomb seeker and detonator.

In 2005 it was experiments with his chain-matrix minesweeper that could be applied via heavy helicopter or plow.

Chico State research associate and mechatronic engineer Jason Coates has worked on Wattenburg's inventions before, but this time he's definitely graduated from combining monster trucks and Sony PlayStations to using a four-wheel drive radio-controlled Kubota to power and pull a sled holding the current experiment.

It's a 16-channel high-frequency radar device that can "see" things deeper in the ground than ever before, according to inventor Farid Dowla, an engineer at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories.

As a result of his association with Lawrence Livermore and his past work with Coates and others, Wattenburg knew who Dowla would need on his team to create an easy-to-deliver and assemble platform for his invention.

Besides Coates, two other Chico State Research Foundation mechatronics students joined the platform-development team, Scott Vanni and Mitchell D'Ewart.

With Dowla was Lawrence Livermore summer intern Ahmad Aladdasi and Roger Tilley, from neighboring Sandia National Laboratory of Livermore.

The equipment they were experimenting with above Greenville included the pulseEKKO 100, a low-frequency radar system manufactured by Sensors and Software of Canada, and the high-frequency radar Dowla designed and had custom-built by Geoscience, a Swedish company that specializes in ground-penetrating radar systems.

After the first run of the high-frequency radar, both Dowla and Aladdasi smiled as they saw the data stream.

The variable high-frequency imaging is of a high enough resolution that they can see there is something buried underground, and what that something might be.

For the experiment, it was household appliances, though in the real world it will probably be land mines and underground bombs, like those being used against troops and police in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"Hopefully, we will be able to eventually combine low frequency and high frequency so we get depth and resolution," Dowla said, which would be a first he added.

"The main story is these are the sharpest guys at the lab who are trying to figure out ways to find the tunnels on the border, the bombs and whatever else the enemy has hidden underground," Wattenburg said.

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