Landmines Disabled By Drones & AI
Four years ago (2016) there was news of future development of a drone called, Mine Kafon Drone (MKD), that would be capable of mapping, detecting, and detonating landmines.
In fact, the goal of the creators of this drone was not just to clear landmines in general, but to actually be able to clear the world of all landmines within ten years.
By 2020, more than $210,000 was raised on the Mine Kafon Drone Kickstarter, which is far more than the original goal of $83,000.
According to the update in January, 2020, on the progress of MKD Kickstarter, it is being tested, prototyped, landmine mapped and “detection drones” are ready for production.
For the last four years, however, the MKD is no longer the only company working on a drone for landmine detection.
In this article, we’re going to look at why demining drones are so important and the different drone technology out there being developed to meet this unique need.
The Importance of Demining Drones
Demining drones (landmine detection drones) are critically important because landmines kill people every day all over the world.
Often deaths from landmines take place in regions where there are continuous armed conflicts, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, they are also happening in places like Vietnam, where the war million ended decades ago.
“Since 1975, land-mines have exploded under more than 1million people and are currently thought to be killing 800 people a month. There seems little prospect of any end
to the carnage. In 64 countries around the world, there are an estimated 110 million land-mines still lodged in the ground — waiting.”* – UNICEF
Throughout the world, there are numerous corporations and nonprofit organizations that are devoted to removing landmines. The problem is that typically their methods are not very safe, since they require people to physically use a metal detector as they carefully walk on the ground. To make things worse, when a landmine is found, its extraction is manual, as well. This requires that workers are exposed to the hazards of an explosion throughout the process of the extraction.
A drone is a great contrast since it is not only more efficient and quick, but more importantly, much safer. The result is obvious: drones save lives!
MKD claims that they already have 50 interested parties, including “NGOs, governments, and resellers of demining products.”
Binghamton University’s research department is also doing research in this same market. They have been using less costly commercial drones, equipped with infrared sensors, to collect visual data, which can be reviewed to be able to determine whether there are signs of landmines.
While the ability to use any commercial drone platform is a great part of this approach, since it’s highly scalable, the need to manually review all the visual data collected has presented a hurdle for scaling the approach.
The Importance of AI
By utilizing machine learning (AI), researchers have been able to develop and train a model that can recognize patterns in data collected by a drone, which corresponds with landmines. The approach has even proven effective for finding some of the most difficult landmines to spot, that is, those due to their small size and metal that is not a major part of their design. Yet, researchers at Binghamton University have shown that their AI can find them.
Extrapolating from these successful tests, if their approach can find these small, hard-to-see mines, it will likely be successful for other demining efforts as well.
Assuva Defense is a Turkish drone company that makes demining technical drones, which are equipped with a thermal camera that can capture images as deep as 50 meters underground, and also have the ability to detect underground bunkers, explosives, landmines, and chemical material. It is not surprising that they are often used in search and rescue missions.
MKD’S Demining Drone Options
Although MKD demining drone startup began by creating a single drone platform that was able to map, detect, and detonate landmines, they now have created a more effective and expensive system — a two-drone approach — two different drones with one drone for mapping, and the other for detecting and detonating.
Although drones may not eradicate landmines from the earth within ten years, which is the goal of MKD, their continued efforts to do so is a worthy mission that others should emulate as it saves many innocent lives, including children.