Landmine injuries and deaths still occur on a daily basis, decades after their ban in 1997. Complicating their detection is their tendency to be hidden from sight, with some also evading metal detectors.
Inverse reports that an undergraduate duo has built new drone technology that can spot hard-to-identify butterfly landmines from the sky and may get the International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ effort one step closer to its goal of a landmine-free world by 2025.
The outlet explains that butterfly landmines, which are explosive-filled plastic containers, thwart detection from standard minesweeping. Jasper Baur and William Frazer of New York’s Binghamton University tackle this issue using drones with attached thermal cameras.
Their efforts lend to a first-place finish in the aerospace and defense category at the recent Create the Future Technology competition. The life-saving potential of this project is immense. Inverse quotes a statistic from the 2018 Landmine Monitor report, which notes that out of 7,239 total deaths last year, 4,523 were caused by non-improvised mines.
The PMF1 mines developed by the Soviet Union, many of which are still buried in Afghanistan decades after the Soviet-Afghan War ended, are the focus of Baur and Frazer’s work.
“Their entire bodies are made out of plastic, where the more traditional land mine has some sort of metallic casing that can be detected with electromagnetic methods very easily. They are also difficult to find because a plastic landmine can be as small as your iPhone, or even smaller.”
“Their entire bodies are made out of plastic, where the more traditional land mine has some sort of metallic casing that can be detected with electromagnetic methods very easily,” Frazer said in a statement. “They are also difficult to find because a plastic landmine can be as small as your iPhone, or even smaller.”
Their realization that the propensity of these mines to heat up faster than their natural surroundings led to the application of thermal cameras on drones that help keep sweepers off potentially dangerous sites.
Planned improvements include machine learning to replace human observation to find the mimes as well as possible autonomous drone technology so the system could run without a pilot, says Inverse.
If the Binghamton duo is successful, flocks of drones could aid the International Campaign to Ban Landmines’ effort to make the world landmine-free by 2025.