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Kingsport business playing role in training bomb-sniffing dogs

Hank Hayes • May 31, 2017 at 7:15 PM

KINGSPORT —  A Kingsport-based small business is readying production of an enhancer tool for the training of bomb-sniffing dogs.

On March 22, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) licensed its patent-pending mixed odor delivery device, or MODD, to Per Vivo Labs, founded in 2012 by Kingsport’s Russ Hubbard, an Army combat veteran who lost friends to an improvised bomb in Afghanistan.

“The MODD is going to allow dog trainers to safely create odor mixtures with an oxidizer and a fuel,” Hubbard said in a news release. “We’re still looking at the design, but basically up to four jars of compounds will sit in separate compartments. Their smells mix together and the trainer can regulate the amount of odor released.”

The limits of canine detections are unknown but are believed to be superior to any man-made instrument. Dog noses contain 50 times more olfactory receptor cells than humans, and the canine olfactory bulb is 600 times larger, according to the release.

The release also noted it's difficult to regularly train the working dogs with actual explosives, and training efforts are often focused on just half of the explosive, the oxidizer, because the other half, the fuels, are volatile. This leaves the dogs less proficient in detecting the actual mixtures.

A team of DoD scientists researched, designed, and prototyped the MODD to produce realistic bomb vapors. In 2014, they applied for a provisional patent. Further testing showed canines were able to alert on the MODD device at the same rate as actual explosives.

This is Hubbard's second helping of DoD technology. TechLink, a Montana-based DoD partner, also helped Hubbard finalize a license for the Army's rate-activated tether technology in February. His company intends to sell both products to civilian and military customers.

“It's a win for everyone, including the taxpayer, when smaller, nimble companies like Per Vivo take defense research and get it into the field quickly," said TechLink's Austin Leach.

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