Clearing Landmines

Landmine clearance is an idea I’ve given some thought to, but I can’t execute on it right now. So I thought I’d park it here and update it as I find out more about the problem space. As far as my limited knowledge goes the problem is defined by the following parameters,

  • The one common ingredient in all landmines is explosive
  • One landmine costs about $3 dollars to lay and between $300 and $1000 to defuse
  • Landmines (particularily anti-personnel mines) are often scattered indiscriminately over a wide area (often by air)
  • There are over 110 million landmines extant today (mostly in the third world)
  • Clearing landmines is an extremely dangerous occupation

Any solution to the problem must have the following characteristics (to my mind):

  • Be of the same order of magnitude in cost as the cost of laying (lets say $5)
  • Not involve any human interaction
  • Detect all kinds of explosive devices (purpose built landmines and home made devices)

Ergo, build a self-contained, self-sustaining, insect-like robot. The robot will have,

  • A chemical sniffer for detecting explosives
  • Solar power so it can operate without recharging
  • A wireless network capability so it can communicate with its peers
  • GPS so it can pinpoint the location of landmines to its peers (and a master)
  • A simple search algorithm so it can operate in isolation
  • A more complicated search algorithm so it can collaborate with its peers if they are detected
  • A non-lethal tamperproof mechanism to discourage theft, tampering

A network of these could be scattered by helicopter over affected areas and scour the area searching for mines. Once detected the mines need to be disarmed (I don’t know how we might do this at the moment, but detection is a great start). The GPS would allow each robot to indicate its search route and the master could be used to collect and upload search data to a central location. This map could be overlaid over a standard topo map to indicate danger areas, unscanned areas or areas left to be cleared. Each robot would attempt to link to all the others to form a mesh network. This network could then be used by the group to establish new areas to check or to scan existing areas twice etc.

The hard problem is not the individual components, its fitting them all into a resilient, cheap, easy to manufacture package that can be deployed with a minimum of expertise and used directly by locals with a minimum of training.

Potential Problems:

  • Still don’t have a good plan for disabling them
  • Getting everything into a small enough package is a challenge
  • How do we prevent theft damage of the devices before they do their job
  • What if you were to attach a mine to these devices and use them as the weapons they were intended to protect against
  • Can a chemical sniffer be made that can detect all the most common kinds of explosives
  • Is GPS accurate enough to allow safe detection (the mesh network may be able to triangulate itself, though)

My robotics links are on delicious.

26 thoughts on “Clearing Landmines

  1. Hi.

    some good basic ideas here …
    I have been independently thinking about this as well, so when i read your blog here , I found my agreeing with most of your points.

    My ideas also revolve around cheap, basic units that can detect LM’s and will sit on them and net mesh to other units.
    Once a command is given the group will self sacrifice by producing a downforce that will trip the mine.
    Of course this is dirty cleanup as opposed to manual removal, but with 110 million mines around.. If the dirty option can make a huge dent in cleanup. that fewer dead and dismembered people (and animals) in poor countries….

    My thoughts are to setup a Open source project and attract expert in the particular fields to design the components ….

    would you be interested in co-setting something like this up …


  2. Hi Justin,

    The problem with triggering the mines is you can predict the surrounding environment or the size of the explosive charge. What is there is somebody close by when the detonation occurs?

    Better to limit ourselves to detection. They we can focus on clearing areas where crops are grown, paths to water supplies, cross country routes etc. With GPS mapping of these areas the mesh network could favour those areas initially.

    As regards setting something up, I can devote some time to it, but it would require both hardware and software to get this thing of the ground.

    What are your ideas?


  3. I am doing a speech on landmines next week and I was wondering how much money per day would you need to collect to detenate a landmine and over what period of time?
    For example (in my speech i would say); From just …$ per day, in a year you could have cleared … landmines.


  4. Joe.

    Open source projects to date have been generally focussed on building software. I have seen a few like the car project that are using open source to design a car ..

    Tapping into the wealth of people out there who are not IT , but have skills like chemistry, robotics, design, physists etc is open for huge potential …
    I think a community site could be setup using Joomla or other free CMS and build a community focussed on designing robotic/mechanical/chemical solutions to the LM problem

    I have the resources to setup/host the website ..
    Perhaps defer to yourself for the content.

    As for the solution, a walking robot is a cute idea but possibly not the best solution. I would love to see what a world of experts could come up with ..

    As for detection and correction. I suspect the location of most LM fields is already known. Either by locals knowing where to avoid or marked by governments/agencies … What is impossible is the manual clearance of these sites given the sheer number, remote locations, corrupt governments, and lack of funding …

    All would agree that manual clearance is 100% effective per site. But is slow, costly and potentially deadly to the clearer. It is also impossible to throw enough manual resources to clear 110 million LMs. I do not know that rate , but suspect more are layed than can be cleared in a given year ….

    I suspect a solution will be a cheap , robust but expendible unit that can detect and remedy a LM with or without manual assistance.
    It would need a method of locomotion over rough ground and have many of the features that you described earlier …

    Dirty removal by the unit is not ever going to be as effective as manual clearance, but if it could reduce the number of LMs world wide it may be acceptable. The units could also be used as a tool for manual clearance to assist in the detection of the LM’s.

    For the chemistry, i suspect anything that cost 3.00 to build is not designed for stealth, beyond simple burial. It probably leaks detectable chemicals. I would love to see if a simple chemical nose could be invented that would pick up the LM. The other problems of locomotion and correction seem simpler , once this is solved.

    Again, any eventual design MUST be cheap to make and easy to deploy.

    As designs are agreed upon by the community, I suspect enthusiasts would be making and testing the physical units as the project progressed.

    If it got to the stage of commercialisation, being open source any company would be free to use the IP to create a commercial solution. But under the licencse it should expect to give a small percentage of gross revenue back to victims of land mines.

    Your thoughts ….




  5. Agree that a multi-disciplinary approach is necessary. In general all IP would need to be in the public domain. For the software the new version of the GPL might have some value as regards its patent defence mechanisms.

    As regards walking robots their is a considerable body of evidence that says may be more suited for navigation in hostile and/or unknown terrain.

    My vision is for an NGO or better still the local community to release a network of bots to secure their farmland or routes to water. One person either walks a boundary or a route carrying a GPS locator and the data collected on route can be used to define the search parameters for the robot network. A fuzzy factor would ensure that their was an extended “safe zone” outside the defined boundary.

    Agree with all your other points, cheap to manfacture and thus essentially disposable are the key criteria. This means off the shelf components and simple cheap to manufacture electronics. Ideally these devices could be manfuctured by the affect countries themselves.

    In fact as I think about it, navel gazing here without their direct input into would be a completely bankrupt process. So one of the goals of the project would to incorporate direct feedback and on the ground experience from the community where these devices would be used.


  6. Hi.

    Yes agree with IP comments and accessing community input, they are vital for the health of the project.

    In structure I would imagine a project/direction commitee oversiting the discipline groups.
    People could come in and join a discipline group they felt they could contribute too.
    Each discipline would have a leaders…

    Possible groups

    * Project Direction
    * Chemical detection
    * Locomotion and chassis
    * Electronics and Programming
    * Prototype and Testing group
    * Community Group
    * LM research group.
    * marketing and PR group
    * etc ….

    I suspect the best approach for Bots logic will be a neural core that provides generational learning capability. A multi level with more standard device driver code levels that abstract locomotion , etc … from the core logics.

    Biggest problem I can think about …. Testing.

    As LM’s are bloody dangerous and even the chemicals in them are dangerous .. Some protocols and expert advise would need to be proposed about how devices can best tested safely ….

    Do you have any ideas for the projects name & URL ….


  7. I like this thread and commend the contributors for their obvious concern for their fellow man as well as their philanthropy to donate their time to solve the problem.
    I am indirectly involved in this type of project via Rotary International which has several groups of like minded people.

    I have a few problems however.
    1). I honestly believe that until more countries (particularly America) sign the agreement not to manufacture and sell LMs, we could be taking one step forward and 2 steps back.
    2). knowing that the average skilled worker in Cambodia, Laos or Viet Nam earns less than US$200 per MONTH, i have to question the $300 stated cost of clearing per mine. Yes, training dogs etc adds a lot to his monthly cost BUT —
    3). Therefore, if the actual cost (minus the graft, corruption and profit making) is closer to $100 (say) then the problem is more capable of being funded. To multiply US$300 by the several million landmines in the world today, the cost breaks the billion mark several times. Can we get the world community to commit to such costs when there are so many other things placing demands on the world’s charitable funding?
    4). In the vast majority of situations, we are not talking of rough terrain where semi-ordinary vehicles cannot traverse.
    Therefore, i have a distinct preference for manned vehicles of some sort with a frontal clearing device as seen in several internet sites.

    Such device must be strong enough to withstand many detonations without self-destruction. In rougher terrain like mountain regions, rivers, under trees etc, a different method is needed but i believe that the manned vehicle will go a long way to eliminating a larger quantity, quicker and cheaper than present methods.

    I’m not the first to think of this so why doesn’t this theory work?

    Can anyone tell me


  8. Hi Greg,

    Yes, a mult-lateral approach is a must, but stopping production doesn’t fix the existing problem of the ones that are already laid.

    The price point for clearance is not mine so I can’t really argue the point, its kind of moot though as the issue is clearance is currently several magnitudes more costly than laying mines.

    Yep, the manned vehicle approach works when the the terrain is suitable, but for fields of crops, mountain passes, narrrow tracks or any kind of heavy or muddy terrain its not suitable. Again taking one approach does not preclude the others.


  9. Yes you’re right Joe.
    The $300 is quoted in many sites but some sites even go as high as $1,000 per mine. No urguements here except it sounds very high for Asian countries. $300 pays 2 months salary in Cambodia.
    Pardon me but i thought that fields of crops would already be plowed (viz de-mined).
    There are vehicles on the market suitable for muddy, boggy, wet, narrow etc. It’s the un-farmed areas, the tracks to water wells, the trails to schools, playing areas, villages, to vegetation suitable for eating/harvesting that is the problem.
    Those places that are already farmed have (by their nature) been already cleared.

    Ok, i commend you guys for your dedication.
    Just thought i’d join this blog for a while and throw my hat in.

    Oh, BTW, i read a site that said (roughly) “only 300,000 people are killed by landmines each year which is nothing compared to the numbers killed by starvation or aids or bad water. It’s not a high priority.”
    As they say in the song — things that make you go mmmmmmm



  10. Another BTW – an Aussie mate suggested that they send a few thousand sheep over to Laos – if the worst happens the locals eat free mutton. In Australia in a bad drought, you can buy a sheep for AUD$7.50 (US$6)

    Sick, sick, sick (???)


  11. i want to know how to get into demining if you know of any place that gives training and employment please let me know

    john dauth
    13 wright rd
    kzn south africa

    0730528590 /


  12. Hey Joe
    Nice thinking there.
    I’m actually starting a student research team to build a low-cost landmine detection bot. I liked your solar powered insect idea but the cost of such a system could still be a deterrant. Manpower is still the cheapest resource in third world countries and a human-robot detection team would probably more suitable.
    Anyways, keep thinking. Shall keep you posted when we get going this Fall.
    Best Regards


  13. I’ve been thinking about the “disarming” angle. How about mounting a semi-automatic rifle on a tower on the vehicle to fire down at the mine at a steep angle from a few feet away. Should certainly set off an a/p mine if accuracy was within say 10 cm.
    Anyone have any idea of the percentage of non-metalic mines in the mix? Would a metal detector be OK in most areas? That’s what they are using in Bosnia accroding to a recent NPR program I heard.


  14. Hi Dermod,

    Disarming is actually straightforward its detection or more importantly, establishing the absence of mines that is important. Having said that, anything that takes the human element out of mine detection and removal is a step in the right direction.



  15. for a device to find and detonate metal land mine I was thinking you should mount a massive electro magnet to a metal plate and drag it across the ground as it would pull up and detonate any metal mines under a plate so no collateral. Another option would be something like the vibrating compactors on construction sites that can be set up to move about an area at random as they are will destroy any mines and will move across just about any terrain.My last idea is the lawn aeration device that poke holes in your lawn and would be suitable for clearing fields or light brush.
    Just throwing a few ideas out there.
    But the best idea I hear so far is the sheep I know it is gruesome but they would be dead instantly and would provide food. They search areas better than any robot and don’t need human intervention.


  16. Yeah Ben, smart, think about that dragging and the in front/behind thing, then think about plastic mines, then think about the absence of mines as the real problem. Now you’re ready to contribute.


  17. Another idea I had and I know this is sorta silly but has anyone ever hear of fuel air weapons? We the military uses them to clear land mines and at the moment a russian fuel air weapon has a blast equivelent to a small nuclear weapon. Now this idea may be impractical as it has a ton of collateral but it would destroy all flate plate style mines in a wide area and since it reaches many thousands of degrees it will cookoff explosives. However my latest big brain storm is a land mine design. I know we are talking about trying to get rid of them yes but lets face it more land mines are planted every year and those we need to worry about too. The solution could be(I’m no chemist so it might not work) is to create an explosive that will deteriorate over a time of 5-6 years rendering it useless after that time so that civilians will not be plagued by them after a war is over.

    Then back to getting rid of them take the idea of a military style chain wipand work ot down in size so that is can be the size of a beefed up rototiller with armor protecting the driver.

    Then unfortunatly to be less optimistic we must realize a couple of things.
    Areas covered in mines are often thickly vegetated as the majority of people aren’t silly enought to enter them and start clearing them.
    Areas with anti personell mines often are also intespersed with anti tank mines slowing the use of vehicles to clear it.
    So please don’t accuse me of buchery but the fuel air explosives may be one of the best alternatives for (Some areas) as they defoliate, destroy claymore mines and trigger the majority of mines. This would pave the way for macanical clearing.

    Sorry for the long post=(


  18. In the UK we have a problem with Prison overcrowding, it costs around £75 ($150) per day to keep somebody in Prison. Reading above it says it costs $300-$1000 to clear each mine! Anybody see where this is going????


  19. Instead of having dishonest crooks do it who will need guarding(extra cost and unreliable) . Train and provide locals in their area with the equipment they need to clear mines as we do by hand right now I am sure if they had the means and know how to clear them they would be able to clear and make their villiages and feilds safer. one small step


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