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Landmines present an incredibly dangerous threat; these explosive devices are well hidden in unknown locations and are difficult to detect. It is estimated that 90% of victims injured or killed by landmines are civilians, mostly children. Furthermore, landmines can destroy fields, disrupt agriculture and economic development.
There are thought to be approximately 100 million landmines worldwide left over from previous conflicts which kill thousands each year. In 2005, Landmine Monitor declared Egypt as one of the most mine-infested countries in the world with approximately 20 million landmines and unexploded ordinances on the territory. Their presence hinders agriculture and construction as it isn’t possible to build or farm on the land; as a result, many mine-afflicted countries are poverty-stricken.
Consisting of plastic, metal, or other materials, mines contain explosives, and in some cases, pieces of shrapnel. Once detonated, a mine can cause serious injuries such as blindness, burns, damaged limbs, and shrapnel wounds, and death. Stepping on a mine will cause foot and leg injuries, and secondary infections often resulting in amputation.
There are Different Types of Mines:
- Fragmentation mines which project hundreds of metal fragments and cause deep wounds to victims.
- Bounding fragmentation mines which shoot up and explode, firing metal fragments across a large radius.
- Antivehicle mines/antitank mines, which are designed to destroy or disable vehicles.
It takes a specific set of expertise to detect and clear landmines. Metal detectors are the current standard to detect landmines, but unlike their old-style counterparts, many modern landmines have no metallic materials and are harder to detect. Another issue with metal detectors is that they suffer too many false alarms as they also detect small fragments of munitions on the battlefield.
Multi-sensor robots could provide an efficient means of safely detecting explosive devices without putting lives at risk. By fusing information from different sensors, the robots can plan paths and help guide soldiers towards landmines safely. Mobile robots use sensor fusion techniques to increase the probability of mine detection and decrease false alarms, all at a low cost.
In industrial environments, vapor sensors are employed to monitor the concentration of dangerous chemicals, and this method could be utilized to detect landmines. Landmines release TNT (trinitrotoluene) to the surrounding environment, and detecting this could be the key to safely locating millions of abandoned landmines. Placing sensors on robots could be an easy solution which has the added benefit of a low chance of false alarms.
Some robots are capable of exploring areas and marking the position of buried landmines, even destroying them. Mine Kafon Drone (MKD) is a flying robot designed to make clearing landmines easier, cheaper and safer. The drone features three different attachments; the first is used to map the area while the second, a metal detector, locates the mine and flags it with a GPS marker. The detector is then switched out for a robot arm which places a small tennis ball-sized detonator over the mine location which is blown up once the drone has retreated.
MKD’s designers, led by Massoud Hassani, claim it is twenty times faster than traditional detection techniques, and 200 times cheaper. But is not without its issues; MKD has difficulty locating mines that have been buried underground for decades, even when the drone is 4 cm from the ground. Its also tricky to rely on GPS, which has an accuracy of 4 m, for precise geolocation. The team however, hope to improve this using triangulation from external antennae.
Demine Robotics have developed and patented a new method of removing landmines using robotic technology. Jevit is a demining excavation machine that locates, removes and detonates anti-personnel mines and small unexploded ordinances (UXOs). This remote-controlled machine is fitted with a camera for the safety of deminers and for the efficient unearthing of landmines. It has two mechanical arms which reach into the ground to lift out the mine safely and efficiently.
Countries are aiming to rid the world of landmines by 2025; in six short years, over 100 million landmines need to be located and safely removed and destroyed. From drones to mobile roving machines, robots are an ideal way to find, mark and ultimately terminate these explosive devices, helping to save the lives of not only the military personnel who are responsible for their destruction, but the innocent victims – often children - who accidentally come across them.
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