Mine Marker Drone for a better future — without landmines

As international troops pull out of Afghanistan, they leave behind them a lethal legacy of unexploded bombs and shells. Around 10 million land mines still contaminate more than 500 square kilometres of land.

They are still killing and maiming people at a rate approaching 400 a year. The vast majority of the victims are children. More than 20,000 tonnes of ammunitions have been dropped over Afghanistan. Around 10% of munitions do not detonate: some malfunction, others land on sandy ground. Foreign soldiers have also used valleys, fields and dry river beds as firing ranges and left them peppered with undetonated ammunition.

Sadly the situation in Afghanistan is not unique. There are other countries like Angola, Iraq, Cambodia and Bosnia where the continued presence of millions of landmines brings daily misery to families living in the legacy of conflict zones.

Tapping into an idea from the past.
Massoud Hassani is an Afghan-Dutch designer who is taking direct action to change this terrible situation. He spent thmassoude first 10 years of his life in Afghanistan in the early 1990’s.

“I grew up in Qasaba, Kabul” recalls Massoud. “My family moved there when I was 5, and at the time there were several wars going on. My brother Mahmud and I played every day on the fields surrounded with high mountains in our neighbourhood. We had little money or possessions. So we learned to make our own toys”

“One of my favourites was a small rolling object that was powered by the wind. We used to race them against the other kids on the open fields that surrounded our neighbourhood. There was always a strong wind blowing towards the mountains. I noticed that our toys often rolled too fast and too far. But they would end up in areas where we couldn’t go to rescue them because of landmines. I still remember those toys I’d made that we lost and watching them just beyond where we could go. That gave me an idea.”

Let the wind help destroy landmines
Massoud has made an ambitious personal goal to rid the world of landmines within a decade.

“In 2011, for my graduation project for the Design Academy in Eindhoven, I returned to Qasaba. We decided to re-make those toys. But this time, we made them 20 times larger, heavier and stronger, renaming the device “Mine Kafon” (which means Mine Detonator in the local Dari language).”

“When it rolls over a mine the device destroys itself and the landmine at the same time. “Mine Kafon” has developed into a spherical mobile made out of biodegradable plastic and bamboo. It’s light enough that the wind pushes it around naturally. But it is also heavy enough to set off landmines as it rolls over them.”

“With each detonation, the Mine Kafon loses just one or two of its legs so it can destroy three or four land mines for each journey.”

“Mine Kafon also has a GPS chip integrated inside. You can track its movement on a website and see where it goes. It can build maps showing the safest paths to walk on and keeps track of how many land mines are destroyed in that area.” explains Massoud.

The global statistics on land mines and their effects make for sober reading. According to the United Nations, up to 110 million mines have been laid across more than 70 countries since the 1960s. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people die each year because of them.

“On paper, Afghanistan is said to have 10 million land mines. In truth, I believe there are many more. And if this idea works in Afghanistan, I believe it can be deployed worldwide where the need is just as great. Every destroyed land mine means a saved life and every life counts in this world.”

What’s New: The Mine Marker Drone is next
During Dutch Technology Week June 1–6th 2015, an international exhibition opened in the heart of city of Eindhoven, where Massoud has been showing the next stage of the “Mine Kafon” project. Following a successful Kickstarter funding round two years ago, Massoud has been working with several partners to perfect the design, yet cut the costs of production. They have been experimenting with smart materials developed in this region of the Netherlands.

Drones are getting a bad reputation the minds of the general public, especially as they regularly used in military operations. According to many international newspapers, including the Washington Post, US drones have recently killed US citizens.

“I’ve been fascinated with drones for a while” says Massoud, “but this time I want to use them to save lives instead of ending them. We therefore looked at ways in which we deploy a drone to identify and tag the exact position of a landmine. It is so much easier for de-mining teams to operate in an area if they know the exact location of the mine.”

landmine2“So we built a drone which has a sensitive mine detector attached to a robotic arm that is positioned below it. It hovers above the area which is being de-mined. When a mine is detected, the drone spray paints the area directly below it and sends the exact coordinates to a digital map on the area. We have to use special non-ferrous materials to make the drone, otherwise there is a danger the drone and the robot arm would trigger the mine below it.

So, although it is a simple idea, making it into a working prototype has been a team effort. I hope the demo in Kazerne during Dutch Technology Week will trigger interest from the international community. We’re currently looking for partners to help us with the mapping part of the project as well as fund the next stage to turn this prototype into commercial production.”

Combining technology, design and art in a fresh, inspiring venue
Mine Kafon forms part of the second season of Open World, being held at Kazerne, a venue which has quickly established itself as the new international podium for the Dutch creative industry. It’s located in the former military barracks in the centre of Eindhoven, Holland’s smart tech capital.

Original article and pictures by Jonathan Marks