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Benevolent Drones: Is a Future Without Land Mines Just a Decade Away?


A drone land mine detector is on the horizon -- provided it gets funded. HowStuffWorks
A drone land mine detector is on the horizon -- provided it gets funded. HowStuffWorks

Drones have been a topic of much debate. While tech junkies love them for their unique abilities, others find them creepy, and fear a loss of privacy in a world with drones hovering around us. But many applications of drone tech are working for the greater good — including one that hopes to eliminate dangerous land mines.

Land mines have been a common part of warfare since the early half of the 20th century. They can be made relatively cheaply, so they're still popular in many countries, despite ongoing global efforts to ban them. While ordnance is part of warfare, the problem with land mines is that they're indiscriminate — they can't tell a soldier from a civilian — and they are often left in place long after a conflict has ended. 

A total of 3,678 recorded land mine detonations were logged worldwide in 2014, though there were likely more that went unreported. Nearly 80 percent of the people injured or killed in those known detonations were civilians; nearly 40 percent of those civilians were children. In recent news, even the wildly popular Pokemon Go game has been affected by the land mine problem; players in Bosnia have been warned to stay aware of their surroundings as they hunt for Pokemon. Mines left over in the area from conflicts in the 1990s pose a threat to game players who may wander too close.

Getting rid of all that ordinance is no small task, and it's dangerous. Current methods of removal involve animals trained to sniff out explosives, humans with metal detectors, or large detonation vehicles. Those methods can be slow, costly and risky. But drones may offer a better way to deal with the problem.

A group working out of the Netherlands called the Mine Kafon Foundation is developing a drone designed to find and detonate mines in a way that's safer and cheaper than existing methods. According to project founder Massoud Hassani, the Mine Kafon Drone is 20 times faster at locating and eliminating mines that current approaches, and at a cost 200 times cheaper.

This isn't the first land-mine-destroying robotics project for Hassani and his team. Their previous invention, a device called Mine Kafon, looks sort of like a mechanical tumbleweed. It's designed to roll through mine fields, blowing any mine it finds — and itself in the process.

With the new Mine Kafon Drone (MKD), the team has developed a technology that will further reduce both the cost and risk of demining. It uses a series of modular robotic attachments that can be interchanged at each of the drone's three phases of work.

First, the MKD uses a mapping system attachment to make a 3-D map of the designated area. Then, the mapping system is removed and a metal detector is attached. The drone uses the metal detector plus GPS to locate and digitally flag mine locations. In the final step, the metal detector is swapped for a robotic gripping arm which carefully places detonators on identified mines. The mines are triggered and eliminated, and the drone can move on to its next location.

Right now, the Mine Kafon Foundation is running a Kickstarter so they can finish development and start testing the technology in the field. The project has gained international attention. And it's ambitious —Hassani has a goal to eradicate all mines on the planet in the space of 10 years. 



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