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Defense Agency Awards Decision Sciences $5M to Expand Capabilities of Detection System

Aug 09, 2016

Decision Sciences International Corp. has received a potential $5.2 million contract to expand the detection capabilities of a cargo scanning system it has developed and tested for passively detecting and identifying shielded and unshielded nuclear and radiological materials.

Under the new contract with the Pentagon’s Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO), Decision Sciences will complete development and testing of new machine learning algorithms that will enable the company to build and expand the materials library of the Multi-Mode Passive Detection System Generation 3 (MMPDS GEN3), Dwight Johnson, president and CEO of the company, tells HSR in an interview. This expansion of capabilities means the system will also be able to detect, identify and locate various types of contraband.

The company said that the machine learning capability means that the MMPDS is “trainable” so that as the threat or contraband changes, the library can be updated to identify and locate illegal materials.
Decision Sciences developed and built the muon tomography-based MMPDS to relatively quickly, passively and automatically scan conveyances such as cargo containers for shielded and unshielded nuclear materials. The company says the system can safely scan a typical 40-foot shipping container in one minute when no threat is detected, thereby providing security while facilitating the flow of commerce.

In 2012 Decision Sciences, at its own cost, deployed the second-generation MMPDS at the Freeport Container Port in the Bahamas to scan some containers entering and exiting the port to collect data. That same year, the Department of Homeland Security’s Domestic Nuclear Detection Office awarded the company a contract to conduct multiphase testing of the MMPDS that ended last year.

The MMPDS is still at Freeport collecting data although the system is not deployed in the stream of commerce, Johnson said.

Although the MMPDS was developed and built for detecting nuclear materials, along the way Decision Sciences discovered that the technology and algorithms could be used to detect and analyze electrons as they interacted with goods inside containers, which means the system can be used to detect contraband, explosives, narcotics, cigarettes, smuggled humans, and other things.

In addition to the new machine learning algorithms and expanded materials library, the CTTSO contract will allow Decision Sciences to improve the muon tomography to track electrons as they stop, which “gives you more data about the material inside the container,” Johnson said. “The system is designed to be a material discriminator.”

Johnson said most of the development work on the GEN3 system is done and is “very rapidly coming to a close.”

The GEN3 system will also feature improvements beyond expanded materials discrimination, Johnson said. Software and electronics enhancements will improve the user interface to be faster and more precise three-dimensional picture of what is inside the container, he said.

Another important aspect of the CTTSO contract is that there are plans to deploy the GEN3 system in the U.S. and the contract includes an option for the potential deployment of the system internationally for an ally, Decision Sciences says.

Johnson says that a production model of the GEN3 system for customers will be available for customers either late this year or early in 2017, adding that the company is “actively engaged with a variety of customers around the world.” He believes that given the global customer interest the potential exists for purchases of the system beginning in the second half of 2017.

As for the U.S. deployment, it will come down to discussions among interagency partners that include the Departments of Defense, Energy, and Homeland Security, Johnson said. The deployment will enable further testing, and Johnson expects a decision relatively soon.

Johnson expects the contract to be complete, including the testing, in two to three years.

The contract with the CTTSO is third the company has done with the agency for the MMPDS technology. The earlier contracts were for development of the technology.

Johnson joined Decision Sciences in March after spending 25 years in the transportation industry, including cargo shipping, rail, port operations and transportation-services businesses. Most recently Johnson was president and CEO of ITS Technologies & Logistics, the largest intermodal terminal management company in North America.

Johnson says his hiring “probably reflects the move from being a government-centric development company to a widespread commercial company.”