VMI Undergraduate Research Project Licensed
August 1, 2011
LEXINGTON, Va., Aug. 1, 2011 – Virginia Military Institute has completed a licensing agreement for manufacture of a potentially life-saving device developed by VMI cadets and faculty.
Licensed to Strata Products Worldwide LCC, a global firm specializing in the design and manufacture of emergency refuge chambers and underground mining roof support products, the Extremely Low Frequency-Seismic Detector – ELF-SD – uses seismic signaling to locate survivors in a mine collapse.
The VMI system provides reliable low bandwidth communications through rock, which will make it possible to communicate with miners seeking refuge in Strata’s shelters or places where communication devices are attached to roof supports.
“Once approved, this technology will mean you will not have to drill to find out if miners have reached safety in a shelter,” said Mike Berube, Strata chief operating officer. Other potential uses for the device include communications with automated mining equipment, oil drilling equipment, and buried seismic sensors.
As many as eight cadets majoring in electrical and mechanical engineering and six majoring in economics and business have been involved with the project over several years. The device was issued Patent Number 7,843,768 by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office last November. It was invented by Col. Jim Squire, professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Lt. Col. Jay Sullivan, associate professor of mechanical engineering, with then-Cadet George “Will” Flathers III, a 2008 VMI graduate. The rights to the patent, VMI’s third, are owned by the VMI Foundation.
“Many universities are adopting ‘virtualized’ labs that can be completed by guided computer simulations,” said Squire, “but that’s not as effective as having students pick up soldering irons or wrenches or surveying equipment and learn to use real tools. This is one of the things that makes an engineering education at VMI increasingly unique.” A project like the ELF-SD marries technology to societal needs, added Squire.
Helping develop the ELF-SD gave Flathers a taste of real-world engineering.
“The problems we ran into weren’t scripted as part of a test or lab exercise; there was no guarantee of a ‘right answer’ or that it would work at all,” Flathers said. “Welcome to the real world – that’s where the problem-solving methodologies and the design approaches I’d been learning in the classroom came into play.”
An officer in the U.S. Air Force, Flathers was VMI’s first Marshall Scholar. Following graduation from VMI, he studied two years at the University of Sheffield, conducting research in automatic control and systems engineering.
With company headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., Strata Products Worldwide provides local engineering and sales support with offices in the mining regions of the United States, Europe, Australia, South Africa, and Mexico.