Launchable CBRN Sensor

To keep operators out of harms way, the Launchable CBRN sensor is a custom made sensor and launch vehicle designed to be shot out of an M203 grenade launcher.

Created For: Internal / Redacated
Skills Used: Design / Fabrication / ATAK

Quite possibly one of my more ambitious efforts was to create a CBRN sensor that could be remotely fired from a weapon. This effort started when I was creating a concept of a multi-headed Nuclear / Gas / Chemical sensor in where a single compute unit would be able to have interchangeable head units to find different materials – thus reducing the mount of sensors a solider would need to carry. While this effort was being designed, it was said tongue in cheek; “It would be really cool if you could put it in a cannon…”. One week later with the assistance of an AR15 Can Launcher, the Launchable CBRN sensor was born.

The first prototype was 3D printed out of PLA for simplicity sakes. Head units derived power and communications through a set of pogo pins on the top of what I called the “Brain Unit”. The brain unit spoke LoRa to a custom LoRa clip on modem we built for an Android phone and the device readings were fed into ATAK’s RN Plugin.

After demoing the concept at an IoT Field Day we caught the eye of a SOCOM training facility that was looking for novel ideas for the warfighter of the future. Here it was asked if we could custom make the concept to detect Methane while shooting the device from an M203 Grenade Launcher.

Considering this effort has never been done before, we could not use COTS hardware. This pushed us into creating our own MCU based an open source Arduino layout. Our new chip included an industrial Methane sensor / LoRa modem and PCB Antenna. We designed this in house and hand built a series of prototypes.

The device ran off a single rechargeable AA style battery and had and average life of about 6 hours, well more than what we needed. The concept was simple enough – shoot the sensor into a confined area where you could not send a human or a robot and get the measurements of the environment. The execution on the other hand was difficult. Shooting something like this out of a low powered AR15 can launcher was one thing – but an M203 packs a significant punch. The entire device needed to be potted and a custom shell needed to be milled.

For the shell, I chose to use anodized aluminum – mainly because it is not sparking. After months of designing, building, redesigning and rebuilding we finally came up with a solution that would house the device securely enough to withstand the forces of the ignition as well as its impact into a wall. A series of ten final shell prototypes were manufactured.

Even though the chip was 100% potted and the shells were design to take the impact, we still saw significant failures in the testing of the device surrounding the battery and the life span of the physical sensor itself.

Failing fast and learning from our mistakes made us nimble in the redesign process and we have started to explore partnering with a few different vendors to supply advanced absorption materials to handle the forces on hand.

Currently the launchable sensor is on the back burner while I focus on another project, but the effort is far from over. I expect to pick up development again in early 2023. .