Sat, Jul 23, 2016 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Former refugees unveil mine-clearing drone

REMOTE DETONATION:The device is designed to scan terrain before using a metal detector to detect possible mines and then placing a charge to set off ordinance

AFP, EINDHOVEN, Netherlands

Afghan refugee Massoud Hassani flies an anti-landmine drone in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, on July 4.

Photo: AFP

Former refugees Massoud and Mahmud Hassani stunned the world three years ago with an invention like a dandelion puffball that sought to rid the world of landmines. Now the Afghan brothers are back with their latest creation: A low-cost drone to detect and destroy mines, which each year claim thousands of lives.

Ridding the world of their childhood horror has become the life work of the Hassanis, who now live in the Netherlands.

In 2013, they won worldwide acclaim for the mine kafon — a giant ball shaped like a dandelion-seed head that rolls around with the wind, its plastic stalks tripping landmines in the process.

Inspired by their childhood toys, the kafon — short for kafondan, which in the Hassanis’ native Dari language means “something that explodes” — drew high praise from anti-landmine organizations.

Their latest mine-hunting device combines drone technology, 3D printing and robotics with a metal detector to find and ultimately destroy landmines.

Hinged on six arms with rotors that creates lift, the 4.5kg drone consists of a blue, hard-plastic casing that contains batteries, computer hardware and software and GPS. A robotic arm slung underneath is fitted with pincers that can remotely be opened and closed. The pincers can carry a metal detector or a small explosive charge, which the brothers say can be used to destroy a landmine.

The onboard GPS allows it to plot its course via computer.

Massoud said that the drone works in three stages: mapping, detecting and destroying.

When deployed, a 3D mapping system scans the section that needs to be demined. The mapped area is swept by the drones carrying a metal detector on a pre-programmed path.

“This way the minefield in question can be scanned inch-by-inch,” Massoud said at his workshop in the southern Dutch city of Eindhoven.

Finally, the plan is to destroy the mines by using the drone to place a small charge on every mine to detonate them.

“We believe this way mines can be cleared about 20 times faster than what they are now,” Massoud said.

So far the duo have built three working prototypes and have carried out demonstrations for the Dutch military, which said it is willing to help with further testing.

“Clearing minefields is an incredibly time-consuming process,” Major Fred de Vries of the Dutch army’s explosives ordnance disposal unit said.

“We see many possibilities to use drones” to save time to map and detect landmines in a given area, De Vries said.

The key phase would be to carry out field tests in Afghanistan, which the brothers hope to finance by crowd-funding.

If all goes well, the pair believe the drone can be made for as little as 1,000 euros (US$1,100) each.

Other opinions are guarded.

One of them is the Halo Trust, the world’s largest humanitarian mine-clearing organization.

It said that despite having carried out some “small-scale trials with aerial mapping drones,” it did not believe “drones will contribute significantly to the future of mine clearance.”

Drones are of limited use in areas covered with vegetation and in poor weather conditions, the trust said.

And even if the drone did find a landmine “a trained human being will still be required to excavate and destroy it,” the trust said in a statement.

The brothers are using the Kickstarter online crowd-funding platform in the hope of raising 90,000 euros for the final tests.

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