• Micro-X's Argus IED x-ray camera. (Micro-X)
    Micro-X's Argus IED x-ray camera. (Micro-X)

Adelaide-based company Micro-X could be set to disrupt IED disposal operations with its new Argus IED x-ray camera, which it says will allow bomb disposal technicians to safely image suspect packages remotely with greater clarity than ever.

The Argus device, which is about the size of a cereal box, uses Micro-X’s breakthrough cold cathode x-ray technology. This uses a carbon nanotube instead of an imprecise heated filament and can be shrunk down to a fraction of the size of traditional x-ray devices.

“Every other x-ray in the world, other than ours, uses a heated filament in the core of its tubes like an old-fashioned lightbulb,” CEO Peter Rowland said to ADM. “Like electric lightbulbs, that filament has a limited life, is inefficient and is difficult to control.

“A lot of people have been trying to get the LED version – a solid state, non-heated electronic emitter. The good news is we got there first, and it’s all designed here in Adelaide.”

Micro-X first marketed its breakthrough technology through its mobile DR x-ray system, which sought to address the Army’s unmet need for deployable imaging. 

“Most top-of-the-line bedside imaging devices in hospitals weigh 500 or 600 kilograms. That’s fine on a concrete floor, but if you’re on duckboard or an earthen floor in a tented hospital, there’s no way that would work,” Rowland said. 

“The goal of deployable health is to give combat soldiers the same level of medical care in a field hospital that they would get at home. [The ADF] is actually able to do that in every area of acute medicine except x-ray, because duckboard or earth floors can’t cope with more than about 150 kilograms. That only allows for x-ray machines designed for small animal veterinary.

“Our technology can shrink bedside x-ray devices to 95 kilos. So we started talking to 2nd General Health Battalion in Enoggera, and sure enough they were interested.” 

Not long after discussions began with Army on the DR x-ray system, Micro-X received a call from a counter-IED taskforce within the Defence Intelligence Organisation, which was seeking new technologies to assist in IED disposal operations in Afghanistan. At the time IEDs were a leading cause of injury for Australian soldiers.

“The problem is if a suspect device is up against a wall, it is impossible to get a detector plate behind it to x-ray the contents without moving the device itself – which may be exactly what the designer wants you to do,” Rowland explained.

Micro-X’s new cold cathode x-ray allowed the company to capture high-resolution images using backscatter, or radiation reflected from the target – meaning there was no longer a need for detector plates, and suspect objects could be imaged from a distance: in effect, an x-ray camera.

“The unit only weighs 17 kilos,” Rowland said. “A robot can pick it up, take it downrange and get a high-resolution image. Nobody needs to put their life at risk again.”

The company has submitted a tender to provide the ADF with 64 Argus units under Land 154, and is now in the final stages of pre-production and integration ahead of first demonstrations.

“The idea that we have that whole cycle from the ADF asking us to invent this, to possibly delivering it into service under Land 154, really closes the loop,” Rowland said.

Micro-X also has high hopes for the overseas market, particularly in the US, and says there is already a high-level of interest in the Argus. 

“We’ve presented this to a lot of bomb teams, the FBI; everybody says it will change the way they do bomb disposal,” Rowland said. “We estimate there’s a $1.8 billion market. It’s a big industry, and we’ve got something that changes the way that industry operates.” 

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