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At present, there are an estimated 110 million landmines hidden underground worldwide, with countries like Egypt, Angola, Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq, China and Cambodia being particularly affected. It goes without saying that detecting these silent killers is not easy. A mine is said to cost between 2.7 and 27 euros, but removing it costs between 270 and 890 euros! There is also a human cost, as deminers regularly lose their lives.
Technology, especially drones, can help to ensure safer demining. That is why Belgium has invested 1.48 million euros through Handicap International (HI) in order to investigate how drones can be deployed for mine clearance operations in Chad. HI asked its specialised Australian partner Mobility Robotics to carry out this study.
Drones can serve as a kind of third eye capable of detecting visual evidence of the presence of landmines from the air, thus avoiding that humans have to physically enter dangerous areas and making demining a lot safer. The photos that are taken can subsequently be used to create data maps that make it possible to better plan, evaluate and analyse mine clearance operations and make better-informed and more cost-effective decisions.
For instance, researchers have, for the first time, mapped a contaminated area in the Fata Largeau region. The mosaic of thousands of photographs clearly shows a number of 'soil indicators': car carcasses, craters, animal remains. On the basis of these visible signs, it is easy to predict whether or not landmines are present. The research was published in a detailed scientific article in the prestigious Journal of Conventional Weapons Destruction.
The aim is to map out new areas and find out how to best use the data obtained. In addition, training will be given to ten Chadian drone pilots, which should enable the Chadian authorities to autonomously deploy drones to map out areas.