Robots for a Mine-free World

Posted on 14/04/2014 by cameleon in Military
Human and Machine United to fight the LandminesHuman and Machine United to fight the Landmines
I am proud to say that in 1996 I was part of a NATO-led multinational force in Bosnia and Herzegovina tasked with demining and bomb disposal. As a combat engineer with the Implementation Force (IFOR), our job was both extremely exhilarating and absolutely frightening. If you have seen any of the Hurt Locker movies, you probably have a pretty good idea of what we dealt with on a daily basis, although it was not quite as intense as Hollywood makes it appear to be. However, we did this work mostly bare-handed with only a bomb suit for protection; no demining robots.
Eighteen years later, the process for clearing out Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) remains frustratingly similar, and estimates suggest there are still around 110 million active landmines that have not been triggered. According to the UN Mine Action Service, these landmines kill almost 20,000 people each year; in fact there is one landmine for every 17 children alive, and every ten minutes someone is killed or maimed by one. Princess Diana was a champion for the cause of removing all of the landmines when a war is over, and hopefully no one will soon forget the stunning images of the beautiful princess in full demining clothing in the Angola minefields or holding a child who had lost a leg to a landmine. Diana was deeply involved in projects that encouraged and helped demining right up to her untimely death. It would be awesome if her legacy led to a no-holds-barred push for demining former war zones. Advanced technology is beginning to help with the massive project that remains; human efforts currently can remove just 100,000 of these mines each year. At this pace, it would be a thousand years before they are all found and removed, so clearly much help is needed. The answer is an increasing use of robotic technology. Professional demining robots like the SuperDroid tactical robot we sell at RobotShop are already being used to make this process a little less harrowing for military men and women. The PackBot developed by iRobot and the Talon robot developed by Foster-Miller are two great examples and has been used in thousands of explosive ordnance disposal missions in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq. There are many other military robots of this type. Many more robots are needed to handle the entire project, and they must be smart and cheap!  
SuperDroid Tactical robots for SWAT, Military and SecuritySuperDroid Tactical robots for SWAT, Military and Security
Robotic demining is being studied further at the University of Coimbra in Portugal. This University was gifted a customized Husky UGV (Unmanned Grounded Vehicle) by Clearpath and modified it with added navigation, lasers and stereo vision to make it a mobile mine detector that wouldn’t mind getting itself blown to smithereens. University staff also added movable arms, ground-penetrating radar, and a metal detector. Accidents will always happen with landmines, but how much better is it to just buy a new demining robot than to pick up small pieces of a human being? The findings of the project at Coimbra are being added to the Tiramisu demining project, and the collaborative and continued research will explore how to deal with the mines once the Husky UGV’s have tracked them down, which is a vital part of the project as well. Researchers intend to present additional results and ideas at the 2014 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA) at the end of May in Hong Kong. We expect exciting new developments in robotic demining; in fact, the ICRA convention this year is introducing the first Humanitarian Robotics and Automation Technology Challenge (HRATC) which encourages more active involvement by both academic and non-academic experts to solve the landmine problems. Who is up for the challenge? Let's build robots for a Mine-free World !
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