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Jan 4, 2018 | By Troy Carter

Vets developing new marker from Air Force chem-light technology

Ohio startup closes on patent license with defense lab, assisted by TechLink

News Article Image of Vets developing new marker from Air Force chem-light technology
Army Staff Sgt. Robert uses chem-lights to maneuver a water truck in Iraq during a resupply operation in 2009. (David Sharp/Army)

DAYTON, Ohio – Military veterans Nick Ripplinger and Bennett Tanton have a new mission, developing an Air Force technology that lets troops write important messages in the dark like “Stop! Minefield ahead.”

On November 28, the duo’s startup, Battle Sight Technologies, licensed a patented invention from the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Materials and Manufacturing Directorate called “one-part, pressure activate chemiluminescent material.”

“Our first product is the MARC. It’s a marker that enhances communications in the dark­. The infrared version lets you write other messages that you can only see with night vision devices, to prevent the enemy from seeing the message” Ripplinger said.

Nick Ripplinger, president of Battle Sight Technologies
Nick Ripplinger, president of Battle Sight Technologies (courtesy photo)

Glow sticks, more commonly known as chem-lights in the military, have been available since the 1980s, with the pioneering science taking place at a Navy laboratory.

Ripplinger, 31, is an Army veteran from Miamisburg, Ohio, and Tanton, 43, is a former Marine from Syracuse, New York. Both are familiar with the military’s love for chem-lights, which are used by the millions every year to mark helicopter landing zones, vehicles, and soldiers under the cover of darkness.

Based on a fresh idea from the Air Force Research Lab, the MARC (Marking Appliance Reusable Chemiluminescent) constitutes a powerful enhancer if not a replacement for the traditional glow sticks that rely on the mixing of two liquids when the inner chamber of the stick is broken.

“It allows for writing specific messages in visible or infrared spectrums,” Tanton told TechLink. “That’s the kind of dynamic communication that commanders need, especially if radio comms are down.”

Instead of two liquids, the MARC is made of microscopic plastic capsules of dyed oxalate solvent, which are coated with finely-milled hydrogen peroxide catalyst, within a wax binding, which allows the glue-stick-like marker to write on almost any surface.

These tiny capsules–one-half of a millimeter wide–have the consistency of dry powder, but when crushed by the slight pressure of writing, allow the chemicals to mix and glow.

“This invention relieves the need of packaging a two-part system, allowing more versatile applications,” wrote the Air Force’s Dr. Lawrence Brott and his three co-inventors in their patent, which envisioned a glow-in-the-dark pen and perimeter security applications.

Bennett Tanton, co-founder of Battle Sight Technologies
Bennett Tanton, co-founder of Battle Sight Technologies (courtesy photo)

The powder can be divided into amounts dictated by the user’s needs, thereby reducing waste,” the inventors wrote. “The transformation of the starting chemicals to solid forms also improves the shelf life of the system.”

While the MARC is Battle Sight’s first product, Ripplinger and Tanton have other product ideas pulled from their military and civilian experiences that can benefit from this Air Force invention.

Sunita Chavan, head of the technology transfer office at AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, led the effort to partner with the veteran’s startup company with help from the Technology Acceleration Project at The Entrepreneur’s Center in Dayton.

“Our goal is to take Air Force science beyond the laboratory. If our technology can be used for military and commercial uses we’ll pursue a partnership like this,” Chavan said. “Industry partnerships allow Air Force inventions to become great products for civilian and military uses. It’s a win-win deal.”

With the patent license agreement, the small Ohio-based company will receive some transfer of knowledge and know-how from the laboratory and rights to begin commercial production of the glow-in-the dark technology – including markers for military and civilian customers. That means the two veteran entrepreneurs are now working on the first MARC prototype for military field testing and starting discussions with future investors.

“You’ve got to admire these two vets,” said TechLink’s Joan Wu-Singel, the senior technology manager who helped facilitate the patent license agreement. “They know the military’s needs and they’ve got a vision and a plan to commercialize a great piece of technology that includes a sizable civilian market.”

Troy Carter can be reached at troy.carter@montana.edu or 406-994-7798.

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