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UND receives $7.6 million US Army contract for revolutionary sanitation technology

UND will assist in working on Contamination and Sanitation Inspection system

UND students sitting at a table
UND Biomedical engineering students and faculty members conduct a group discussion with members of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM), NASA and United States Department of Agriculture. Photo by Mina Molani, graduate research assistant.

UND has been awarded a $7.6 million Other Transaction Authority (OTA) contract by the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Soldier Center (SC), to develop an innovative Contamination and Sanitation Inspection (CSI) system.

The project aims to design and build field-deployable, handheld inspection scanners capable of detecting contamination invisible to the human eye on surfaces. The CSI system is not just a detection tool; it also documents cleanliness and deactivates potential threats using UVC radiation, which is the highest energy portion of the ultraviolet radiation spectrum. This first-to-market scanning technology is designed for a range of sanitization scenarios and can adapt to routine spot checks, overnight cleanings or periodic deeper cleans.

The project’s principal investigator is Kouhyar Tavakolian, director of UND’s BioInnovation Zone (BiZ).

“We’re enhancing the USDA-developed CSI technology by integrating cutting-edge machine vision tools in collaboration with industry partners in North Dakota, including SafetySpect Inc. and ComDel Innovation,” Tavakolian said. “This upgrade allows us to spot surface contaminants and customize our device and algorithms for diverse industrial applications and environments.”

Brian Tande, dean of the UND College of Engineering & Mines, praised the collaborative nature of the project, and said it advances UND’s engineering and national security efforts.

“We are very proud to be part of this project, which aligns well not only with the mission of our biomedical engineering program but also with UND’s National Security Initiative,” Tande said. “Dr. Tavakolian has brought together an impressive team of faculty, students and industry partners. This project will lead to the development of a novel technology that will greatly enhance the safety of both military members and civilians.”

The grant was obtained with the assistance of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture and the help of the Bioscience Association of North Dakota.

Targeting a Broad Spectrum of Applications

While the technology primarily targets institutional kitchens, restaurants, and food processing industries, its implications are far-reaching. The CSI system can detect invisible residual food residues, biofilms, and bodily fluids, including saliva and respiratory droplets, that may transmit various viral and bacterial pathogens such as influenza, SARS-CoV-2, and streptococcus pneumonia. Notably, the prototype can disinfect surfaces in two to five seconds using UVC illumination.

Enhancing Military Operational Safety

The project aligns with the critical area of environmental and food safety, emphasizing alternative inspection and sanitation technologies. In military operations, environmental and foodborne illness can severely impact combat readiness, troop morale and mission success. The CSI system is set to significantly enhance the sanitization inspection of the food supply chain, crucially impacting the overall safety of the food supply chain for the military.

Advantages Over Current Detection Methods

The CSI system offers an improvement over traditional detection methods like visual inspection or analytical laboratory methods. Its portability, simplicity, and elimination of peripheral equipment make it a cost-effective and time-efficient alternative to standard sanitation and inspection methods. Furthermore, it can serve as a complementary method for specific culture/PCR tests.

Aiding Army Public Health and Combat Readiness

The CSI system will be an invaluable tool for the Army’s public health sections, enhancing the ability to inspect food facilities and others effectively. By providing options for performance-based frequency schedules and intelligently dynamic task lists, the system enables more frequent but less detailed inspections. This approach not only improves efficiency but also allows inspectors to focus on educating establishments and eliminating harmful practices.

A Step Forward in Ensuring Safety

The U.S. Army DEVCOM-SC funded project represents a significant step forward in ensuring food and environmental safety. This technology is not just a boon for military operations; it has the potential to revolutionize cleanliness and sanitation practices across various industries, ultimately safeguarding the health and well-being of military personnel and the broader public.