We have received some constructive criticism of Idea number 354, from none other than an experienced cadre member at a US military NBC training facility.
The portable paper-band contamination tracker fails to satisfy on several counts:
- Even if the device went out for competitive bid and somebody like Lexmark or Brother won the contract,
Uncle Sugar would still never buy enough of them to cover an airbase with the granularity needed to capture a meaningful
image of the "plume," the footprint of deposited liquid agent.
- Of course Uncle Sugar would never put this device out for competitive bid, and would ultimately pay five thousand dollars each, for seventy-five bucks of hardware and a fifteen-dollar expendable paper band cassette. There's a reason I suggested two fax/printer/copier manufacturers as bidders---this device is no more complex than that.
So Cadre one-upped me. "Our people have already stationed the detector paper around the base, as part of pre-attack detection measures. Give us a device that looks at that paper and quantifies the contamination. What do digital cameras cost these days?"
OK. The required granularity would be there. We'd be using an existing resource more wisely rather than procuring a new system with its own expendables. So:
- Control the focus and lighting with a simple, folding (disposable?) plastic frame that holds the camera at a fixed distance and reflects the flash evenly across the sample detector paper. Put a thermometer in a corner of the frame.
- Capture an image of the paper under known shutter speed and aperture, with a known resolution and color depth. Done right, this system could be independent of camera make and model. Just meet the exposure, resolution, and flash specs.
- Imprint coordinates with the image, captured from a GPS receiver. Better yet, snap the coordinates of the paper when it is stationed in the first place, and record the coordinates directly on the paper so it's imaged there, instead of captured later.
- Issue software that sucks the images in from several cameras,
- assesses each image by color of spot, size of spot, number of spots, and
- determines agent type and concentration of deposition, then
- plots the concentration on a base map for the Wing King.
If any readers are familiar with the equipment used to perform complete blood counts, for example, please reality-check me. The software involved in counting colored dots in an image with fixed background color can't be so complex it can't be packed into a high-end notebook, right? Statistical output of an image compressor, such as JPEG?
In fact, might this software be simple enough to run on a properly configured PDA? If so, check out idea number 241.
The challenge to such a system would be porting all of these images back to one location where they can be assembled and assessed. The bandwidth required for hauling around two-meg jpegs would kill a base network; if the assessment function were pushed out to the periphery of the system, closer to where the images are captured, then the message coming from the imager to the mapping software would be a few bytes showing color, concentration, and temperature, a couple bytes identifying the camera, operator, and date/time group, and a couple bytes of location coordinates.
It's also a reason for the USAF to buy me AutoCAD.