By Associated Press - Monday, December 8, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - A Nebraska researcher says a high-tech, highly maneuverable tool developed to measure soil moisture in farm fields also can be deployed on battlefields.

The device’s developer, Trenton Franz, is an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who also is affiliated with the school’s Water for Food Institute.

The cosmic-ray neutron rover was first developed to help farmers manage their water resources. It works by measuring neutrons that escape from soil after cosmic rays reach the Earth’s surface. Some of the neutrons are absorbed, but the amount that escape depends on the soil’s hydrogen content, which is largely determined by the water moisture present.

Franz’s research into military applications was funded by a grant from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory.

“Instead of gathering datasets using the labor-intensive practice of placing probes directly in the ground at multiple points or through satellite-based remote sensing, the rover allows us to gather valuable data that may be missing in between,” Franz said. “You could potentially mount it to the wall of a tank or drop it out of an airplane anywhere in the world and take measurements in a matter of minutes,” he said.

Doing so would help the military make soil maps on the fly to better predict where or how quickly heavy weapons such as tanks or self-propelled artillery could travel.

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