Use of In-situ Shallow Subsurface Spectroscopy for the Detection of Clandestine Human Burials
Award last edited on: 8/12/2020

Sponsored Program
Awarding Agency
Total Award Amount
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Solicitation Topic Code
Principal Investigator
David Perry

Company Information

S4 Mobile Laboratories LLC

526 South Main Street Suite 813C
Akron, OH 44311
   (303) 440-7778
Location: Single
Congr. District: 13
County: Summit

Phase I

Contract Number: 1953818
Start Date: 2/1/2020    Completed: 7/31/2020
Phase I year
Phase I Amount
The broader impact of this SBIR Phase I project is to improve success rates for law enforcement, military, and other agencies searching for clandestine human burials. There are currently 18,000 missing civilians in the United States that authorities assume are buried in clandestine graves. There are also 81,900 fallen U.S. soldiers overseas in unknown graves. Despite considerable efforts, the current recovery rate of these searches is 3% annually. The innovation proposed in this project will significantly improve success rates and allow larger searches to be conducted more efficiently and at a lower cost. The technology uses a spectroscopic probe that is pushed into the ground to detect the presence of human remains with 99% accuracy even after the body has been buried for decades. It improves on the current use of cadaver dogs and ground penetrating radar. This project will create U.S. jobs not only in the field unit manufacturing, but in service sectors associated with forensic work. This project strongly aligns with forensic agency mission statements (i.e., Department of POW/MIA Accounting Agency) and supports the SBIR mission and program goals. The societal impact will be greatest for the families of victims who wait daily for news about their loved ones. This SBIR Phase I project will allow location of clandestine human burials by detecting the presence of human body decomposition products (fatty acids) in situ in the soil. Detection is done in real time by using a mobile robotic survey unit employing a near infrared (NIR) spectroscopic probe system. The spectral peaks characteristic of the adipocere formed during human cadaver decomposition are distinct and can be discriminated from the background soil chemistry. Sophisticated software algorithms are used to analyze the chemical composition of the soil under a wide range of soil types, weather conditions, and other environmental factors. Data are constantly accumulated in a specialized knowledge base capable of handling spatial recognition, calibration of sensors, and the analysis of spectra employing machine-learning protocols. The goal of the SBIR Phase I is to engineer the original prototype to the specific needs of forensic case-work. This involves miniaturizing and customizing the spectroscopic probe system, the on-board spectrometers and computer, and improving the data analysis software. The deliverable is a completed set of blueprints for a second-generation prototype to be used in forensic field tests.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Phase II

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Start Date: 00/00/00    Completed: 00/00/00
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