Ten people are killed or lose a limb to a landmine or explosive war-relic every day. With existing technologies, it would cost around $30 billion and take over 1,000 years to remove the world’s remaining 110 million active landmines. The problem deepens when you consider that the vast majority of these landmines are in war-torn developing countries.
However, a team of British scientists has developed a drone that could dramatically speed up this process and make it safer, while being a bit easier on the pocket.
The project is a collaboration between the University of Bristol and Find A Better Way, a British charity dedicated to funding the safe removal of landmines and explosive remnants of war. They have developed an aerial drone capable of scanning huge areas for mines in a quick, safe and effective way.
The UAV uses hyperspectral imaging techniques, which pick up the subtle irregularities in ground vegetation. The presence of landmines and the explosive chemicals often have an effect on how vegetation grows, giving an indication where they are likely to be.
As explained by Dr. John Day, the project’s leader, in a statement: “Living plants have a very distinctive reflection in the near infrared spectrum, just beyond human vision, which makes it possible to tell how healthy they are. Chemicals in landmines leak out and are often absorbed by plants, causing abnormalities. Looking for these changes might be a way of discovering the whereabouts of mines.”
He added, “Infrared light can also assist detecting man-made objects on the surface of minefields, as they do not produce this infrared reflection. Unexploded ordinances or camouflaged mines on a green field can be difficult to see in normal light, but infrared light can make them stand out from surrounding foliage. Drones taking infrared pictures to map suspected danger zones may provide a quick and safe way to tell if an area is likely to be hazardous.”
To demonstrate the drone’s prowess, the researchers took their drone to Old Trafford, the stadium of U.K. team Manchester United Football Club. To scan an area the size of a soccer pitch by conventional means would usually take months. However, the drone managed to fully scan and map the whole pitch in under two hours. Fortunately, no mines were found.