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Technology

Anti-Landmine Drone Built By Indian Teenager Receives $730,000 Grant

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Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer

clockJan 16 2017, 19:36 UTC

Drones are used for many things, but using them to disarm landmines is a perhaps surprisingly new idea. concept w/Shutterstock

Think you were pretty handy with a power tool after putting up that (perhaps slightly wonky) shelf? Well, think again, as a 14-year-old boy from Gujarat, India, has put you to shame.

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As reported by NDTV, Harshwardhan Zala designed an anti-landmine drone, one that’s so successful that the Indian government has given him a $730,000 grant to develop it. To add insult to ingenuity, he only started work on the prototype in 2016 after reading up on the statistics of landmine-related casualties.

The original took $4,700 to build, whereas the final version of the prototype costs $7,300 to develop. Both versions are said to be better than anything the Indian armed forces currently uses.

The drone uses infrared sensors to pick up on the presence of landmines lingering beneath the soil, before using a tiny detonator to safely destroy them. It’s controlled with a relatively simply remote.

Young Zala showing off his drone. NDTV via YouTube

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Landmines aren’t used too much in warfare anymore, but there are hundreds of thousands – perhaps millions – of them still left over from conflicts either long-gone or currently inactive. Kashmir, a territory split between China, India, and Pakistan, is hotly disputed by all three. The latter two have frequently engaged in military conflicts, from large-scale to insurgency-based campaigns, over the region.

The United Nations established a “line of control” after the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947, which is still to this day peppered with thousands of landmines. Zala’s drone, cheap and apparently effective, could help clear these out and save lives that are lost on a monthly basis in the region.

He has some welcome competition, however, from two brothers growing up on the outskirts of Kabul, the Afghani capital.

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Their co-called Mine Kafon Drone, which was looking for funds on Kickstarter, sounds a little more hi-tech than Zala’s. It comes with a 3D mapping system, which records where mines are by using a metal detector. A robotic arm then carefully places a detonator on top of them before setting it off remotely.

For its part, Afghanistan has 10 million landmines, most of which were left over from the conflict between the Soviet Union and Afghani insurgents – armed by the US – during the 1980s. It was memories of this conflict that inspired the two to come up with their drone in the first place.

Around 6,500 people died in 2015 due to landmines or unexploded ordinances. These two drones, and many like it – most of which are being designed by civilians, it seems – will hopefully help cut this horrifically high number down.


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