Albuquerque Journal: ABQ company gets $25 million for radiation detection

By:  ABQ Journal Staff

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Albuquerque-based engineering firm Aquila has won a $25 million contract to deploy nearly 300,000 wrist-worn radiation detection devices to the Army National Guard.The technology, developed by Aquila, will replace aging, Cold War-era radiation detectors that the military still uses, U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M, said Monday.

Heinrich, who helped push the contract through the Senate Armed Services Committee, announced the deal Monday at Aquila’s 25,000-square-foot manufacturing facility near the Albuquerque International Balloon Museum.

“These detectors sit on the wrist like a watch and measure exposure to ionizing radiation,” Heinrich said. “Service members can be exposed today in many possible scenarios, not just traditional war theaters. They need protection really anywhere, given the dangers from things like dirty bombs.”

The technology includes a small, portable radiation reader for every 100 wrist bands. The bands are wirelessly connected to the reader for real-time monitoring.

“The wrist bands are networked into the monitor so troops immediately know when something is going on and can react quickly,” Heinrich said.

Old monitors used by the military can generally detect radiation only at much higher levels than Aquila’s technology, said the company’s chief scientist, Markku Koskelo. The old readers also typically need recalibration every 30 minutes.

“This technology can read at very low radiation levels, and it stays in calibration a long time,” Koskelo said. “They can also be used in extreme temperature environments.”

Aquila developed the technology with funding from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. It began deploying the wrist bands and readers about four years ago under previous federal contracts, distributing about 400,000 to reserve and regular Army troops.

Under the new contract, Aquila will deliver another 282,000 wrist bands and 2,860 readers to the Army National Guard. It will manufacture and distribute them in partnership with four local companies: Delta Group Electronics, RMB Distributors, Toltec Industrial Service Group and Phoenix West Corp.

The contract will provide stability for Aquila’s 45-person workforce, which might have otherwise faced cutbacks, said Aquila President Judy Beckes Talcott. It also provides revenue to continue building and distributing other products, such as a handheld anthrax detector that Aquila licensed from Sandia National Laboratories and now sells commercially.

“Without this contract, we were looking at significant downsizing and consolidation,” Talcott said. “This allows us to maintain our industrial base in advanced manufacturing while bootstrapping other technologies.”