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Powerful Data Analysis Routine Helps Locate Buried Bombs

By Christian Barthel, Vice President, Barthel & Schreiber GmbH, Duisburg, Germany Ralf Rosenberger, ADDITIVE Soft- und Hardware für Technik und Wissenschaft GmbH, Friedrichsdort, Germany. May 1999.

Picture of a bomb being detonated under water.
Once an underwater bomb is located, specialists are called in to defuse or detonate it

Experts estimate 5 percent of the 440,000 Allied bombs dropped on Berlin failed to explode due to faulty fuses, poor assembly, bad angle of impact and other reasons. Although millions of unexploded bombs and artillery shells have been cleared and defused since World War II, officials estimate thousands remain buried all over Germany. Unexploded wartime bombs are often found in Germany, especially by construction crews in the former East Germany, which has seen widespread reconstruction since reunification in 1990. Most are still live and potentially explosive. In September 1994, a 550-pound American bomb blew up during drilling for a foundation in eastern Berlin, killing three workers. Bombs turn up so frequently that Germans have come to view them less as a looming danger than as an annoyance because of the temporary evacuations and traffic tie-ups that usually follow a discovery. Of the 10 bombs found in Berlin in 1997, two popped up in June and July during construction of new presidential offices next to the Bellevue Palace, the president's official residence in the heart of the city.

Tractor tows sensor
There are three major companies in Germany that specialize in locating unexploded bombs. Barthel & Schreiber GmbH, with 70 employees is the largest concern that handles water searches. The vice president of the firm is the only person in Germany with a specific degree in bomb identification.

The company has several ships,including one built entirely from aluminum, that it uses to locate underwater bombs. To identify underground bombs, the company uses tractors to tow an aluminum trailer ten feet that contains magnetic sensors behind the vehicle. Aluminum is used in the ship and trailer to avoid false positive readings from the magnetic sensors, which are highly sensitive detectors of ferrous materials. The driver of the tractor is guided by a GPS system that helps maintain the path of the vehicle to follow a predefined grid. In about 8 hours, a single tractor can scan an area of about 1000 meters by 500 meters. A personal computer with a Keithley analog/digital converter card collects sensor readings at a rate of 20 samples per second. The result is a file on the order of 50 Megabytes in size.

Picture of a bomb. Although millions of unexploded bombs and artillery shells have been cleared and defused since World War II, officials estimate thousands remain buried all over Germany.

Barthel & Schreiber developed a software package that reads the GPS signal, keeps track of the tractor's position and provides course correction information to the driver. They needed a program that could acquire the magnetic sensor data and correlate it to the GPS data, then perform proprietary analysis routines developed by the firm that help to separate bombs from hubcaps, tools and pieces of scrap metal, and finally generate a large-scale plot that would pinpoint the position of each possible bomb. The firm considered developing the program from scratch but determined that the cost would be astronomical. It investigated several commercial data analysis programs that had programming languages capable of coding the data analysis routines used to identify bombs. The problem was that any one of these relatively high level languages would have run the proprietary routines so slowly that it would have taken days if not weeks to analyze a single day's data. Continued...

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