Los Alamos Lab Develops Radio That Works Underground

Los Alamos National Laboratory has developed an underground radio designed to locate trapped miners or help emergency crews communicate with each other during disasters.

The nuclear weapons lab announced this week that it has signed two exclusive license agreements with a Canadian company, Vital Alert Technologies Inc., to market the communications technology. The agreements were signed May 31.

Joe Miller, president and CEO of Vital Alert, said he started his company to find a wireless solution to emergency communications shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks.

He joined with Los Alamos scientist David Reagor, who had been working with low frequency electromagnetic radiation since 1996, after receiving requests from mining companies to help solve their problems with underground communications.

Reagor said the communications technology couples very low frequency radiation that can penetrate earth with digital technology like that used in cell phones and MP3 players to allow the radios to transmit voices and text messages.

The technology also can help find radio users who are injured and unable to respond.

Reagor and Miller said similar technology has been used by the military and by energy companies to prospect for oil, but it has not been widely available to emergency or security personnel.

Miller said Vital Alert, which plans on relocating its headquarters from Huntsville, Ontario, to the United States, expects to begin selling the radios within the next year to 18 months. Currently, the company is working on a prototype that will allow large-scale production of the radios.