Landmines are a common and particularly useful tool used in warfare but what happens when the conflict ends? The truth is, landmines continue to have a devastating effect wherever they’ve been left killing and maiming indiscriminately. The good news is that with today’s available technology, there have been several interesting engineering innovations that can help.
Life-Saving Engineering Innovations
There are currently around 110 million landmines across dozens of war-torn countries which kill approximately 26,000 people every year. While some die trying to collect parts for scrap, many succumb by accidentally triggering the mines. Here’s a brief overview of some of the most fascinating engineering innovations from the past, present and future.
The Classic Metal Detectors
Metal detectors are probably the oldest and most remedial way of locating landmines but it’s far from ideal. Firstly, these devices are not foolproof as some results are false positives as they detect metal of any kind and not just landmines.
Secondly, the effectiveness depends on how deep the landmines are buried, the materials it’s made from and the type of soil. Even though the most powerful and efficient metal detector could find 91% of test mines in clay soil, it only managed 71% in iron-rich soil.
Lastly, it still requires manpower and that means putting people’s lives at risk as they try to navigate an active minefield. Even with the metal detector, the risk of stepping on a mine is still considerably high. Other low-tech methods used to find landmines include bomb-sniffing dogs and bomb-sniffing African pouched rats.
Mine Ploughing Tanks As Engineering Innovations
Although mine ploughs originated in the Churchill-era, they are still widely used today especially by the British. It’s essentially a military tank with a rake-like device mounted to the front that can clear any buried or concealed landmines it comes across.
These massive tanks are mostly blast-resistant and specially designed to either plough over mines, push them out of the way or detonate on contact. The plough pushes the mines to the surface and moves them clear of the tank to ensure nobody gets hurt by an explosion or a piece of shrapnel.
The plough tanks were initially designed for use in warfare to forge a path for other vehicles and thanks to their hard and dangerous work, military vehicles could follow in the plough tank’s path without fear of triggering a mine.
Next-Gen Mine Kafon Drone
Whilst the plough tank is a couple of tons better than traditional metal detectors, it still requires a human operator. This means it’s also not the safest option which brings us to unmanned, autonomous systems. There are some interesting engineering innovations in this particular field and first up is the Mine Kafon Drone (MKD).
The MKD is pretty impressive as it not only detects landmines but it can also detonate them. Equipped with six rotors and various attachments, including one that maps the area while the other metal detector attachment locates the mines.
Once it marks the mines using GPS, the drone returns to the operator to switch the metal detector for a robotic arm. From there, it returns to the site and drops detonators the size of tennis balls over the mines.
The Adaptable Mine Kafon Ball
The same team that designed the MKD also created the Mine Kafon Ball. This autonomous device is another prime example of how brilliant engineering innovations come to life when we are faced with real threats.
The Mine Kafon Ball is a light-weight device that resembles a tumbleweed with dozens of bamboo legs and plastic “feet” that can adapt according to the terrain. It weighs the same as an average person which means it can easily detonate landmines without being blown away by a strong wind.
However, don’t confuse the lightweight with weakness as the design allows it to withstand at least three landmine detonations. Due to the durability and cost-effectiveness of the bamboo legs, technicians would only have to make minor repairs.
They’ve embedded a GPS device in the Mine Kafon Ball’s iron-cased core which can map its movements and send the location of landmines back to the remote operator.
Clearpath Robotics’ Husky Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV)
A team of researchers from the University of Coimbra’s ISR Embedded Systems Lab in Portugal developed the Husky UGV prototype with an incredible ability to adapt to harsh environments. Whilst they based the design on the pre-existing Husky UGV, this one comes with a few toys, including the following:
- Navigation system
- Localised sensors to detect landmines
- A ground-penetrating radar
- A robotic arm that is in itself a metal detector
The team is hopeful that this design is effective enough to make it past the prototype stage and into full production and active use. Besides detecting landmines, the Husky UGV can also help map the interior of underground mines which are often filled with dangerous hazards.
Recommended: ‘Creating The Ultimate Unmanned Combat Vehicle’
Finding The Right Engineering Innovations
It’s become increasingly important investing in sufficient R&D to get the right engineering innovations where they are needed most. Even more so if you consider there are still approximately 23 million landmines unaccounted for in Egypt and 16 million in Iran. Some of these landmines date back to WWII and the Iran-Iraq war.
Research has shown that landmines deteriorate the longer they remain hidden which poses more risk than normal. As the detonator and main charge of a landmine eventually wear down, they become extremely sensitive to any nearby movement. This adds to the already risky situation of mine clearance operations any country undertakes.
As long as these hidden explosive devices are around, nobody is safe but thankfully, science and technology can help find engineering innovations to realise the dreams of a landmine-free world.
Precision Engineering At PRV
PRV Engineering specialises in several industries including construction, automotive, aerospace, rail and steel fabrication. We’ve also been working within the defence sector for some time developing armour-plated products, ancillary systems and new developments.
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