By Jeff Schmidt
For those who grew up in the 1980s, the name Megatron may bring back memories of transforming robots engaged in the endless battle between good and evil. However, in the non-animated world, Megatron is the name of an emerging tech company that is developing products to protect the world’s electronic infrastructure from electromagnetic pulses.
While Megatron Electromagnetic Systems shares a name with the iconic super-villain, its goal is protecting a common good. It is developing products that will protect the electronically-connected global community from what they say is an imminent and significant threat
“EMP, (electromagnetic pulse,) activity is absolutely going to occur,” said Kurt Brandt, the company’s chief executive officer, “and there are a variety of places it can come from.”
EMPs, which produce a short burst of high electromagnetic activity that are able to overwhelm and short-circuit most electronics, are generated from many sources that include nuclear detonations, solar flares and even hand-held devices.
While nuclear detonation is a less-likely source of EMPs, solar flares do occur on a regular basis. In fact, they go through cycles of high and low activity. According to Brandt, the world has been in a 10-year period of low activity and he expects there to be a significant increase in the near future.
When a large field of electromagnetic activity hits an area, power grids can be shut down, data can be lost and secrets can be stolen.
Brandt pointed to the Quebec power-outage of 1989 to emphasize his point. The incident, which was caused by solar flares, resulted in a nine-hour blackout.
“There is a 100 percent chance of continued solar flares,” Brandt said.
There is also the threat of human-generated EMPs. Brandt gave an example of the invasion of Iraq. During the attack, American troops used EMP devices to knock out solar and satellite communications, which left the Iraqis blind and vulnerable.
However, Brandt noted, it could just as easily be turned around on us.
“It is not that difficult for an average person to build a device and there is no way to track them,” Brandt said while talking about a disgruntled bank customer from the Netherlands who learned how to build an EMP device from the internet and used it to fry the bank’s computer network. “There are lots of ways to implement an attack without any way to detect where it came from.”
A well-known scene from the movie “Oceans 11,” in which George Clooney and his gang set off an EMP device during a highly choreographed casino robbery, depicts what can happen during an EMP attack.
“In the Midwest we don’t think a lot about terrorism, but in other parts of the world, terrorism is a part of everyday life,” he said.
With all of the electronics out there that connect every aspect of our lives, Brandt said we are vulnerable without any defense. In response, Megatron’s patent-pending technology is designed to protect servers, computers, industrial controls, wireless devices and other digital technology from natural and man-made EMP sources.
The military is most concerned about espionage attacks, Brandt said, while other places like Europe and New York have a high number of valued assets that need to be protected. “These are our targets.”
Megatron Electromagnetic Systems is a cross-pollination of the military and IT-service markets. The company branched from Brandt Innovative Technologies two years ago with the goal of providing products to customers with high-value, critical data systems.
Brandt said the company is prepared to move forward with a suite of applications already in place and manufacturing already under way. Pending third-party evaluation, he said the goal is to have introductory products in customer’s hands by the first quarter of 2011 with additional products to be developed over the next few years. The company will present at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium, Nov. 10-11, in Madison, and is seeking private equity investors.
— Schmidt is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.