Landmine detection is dangerous but necessary work given the millions of active explosive devices still lying around just waiting to blow innocent people to bits. A sensor-laden drone being tested in the United Kingdom promises to make the process of clearing them out much faster - and safer.
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An unmanned arial vehicle created by University of Bristol scientists has special imaging technology onboard that can spot mines on the ground surface as well as old ones hidden in the dirt. Over time, explosive chemicals leach out of the landmine and gets picked up by foliage nearby. The drone's hyperspectral imaging reveals those subtle changes, which could help humans focus their clearing efforts, according to the university.
The drone is being developed for Find A Better Way, a nonprofit set up by former Manchester United soccer player Bobby Charlton in 2011 after he visited Cambodia and saw firsthand the havoc wreaked by landmines. His organization is collaborating with university researchers on tech-focused solutions for clearing the explosive devices.
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Recently the University of Bristol team, led by physicist John Day, went to Manchester United's home stadium, Old Trafford, for a test run. The researchers think their drone could drastically speed up the mine-clearing process. Usually it would take 10 humans two months to clear an area the same size as the stadium pitch, they told the BBC.
Nobody knows exactly how many landmines are actually out there because, as the United Nations points out, mined areas haven't all been identified and natural disasters can upend warning markers. That said, the humanitarian nonprofit Care estimates there are 110 million anti-personnel landmines on the ground. They kill thousands every year, PBS NewsHour reported.
"If we can take people out of the risk equation, and instead put in robots or drones, then that makes the whole thing safer," University of Bristol physicist Tom Scott said in a video about the project. "We don't want to see any extra loss of life." See the drone up close here: