Using a Wind-Blown 'Mine Kafon' to Clear Landmines

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Marco Werman: One of the lingering legacies of war is land mines. They kill and maim thousands of people each year, sometimes long after the conflict is over. Getting rid of them is time consuming, costly and deadly. But one many from Afghanistan thinks he's come up with a way to clear mines in a cheaper, easier way. His device was inspired by a toy, and The World's Clark Boyd writes about it in his latest column for the BBC Future website. Clark, first of all tell us more about this device. I understand it's like a giant ball with bamboo legs?

Clark Boyd: Yeah, it's a pretty amazing design, Marco. So you have to imagine an iron ball and then there are bamboo posts that radiate out from. Now, inside the bamboo ball is actually put a GPS device, and then at the end of the bamboo poles are little plastic feet. So the idea is that this device would be light enough to blow in the wind, but heavy enough to detonate the mines. And at the same time with the GPS you'd be able to track where it is going.

Werman: So tell us about the creator of this device and what was the toy that inspired him?

Boyd: So the name of the guy who invented it, his name is Massoud Hassani and until he was a teenager he lived in the northern part of Kabul in Afghanistan. And he lived right on the edge of an area of desert that was filled with land mines and all sorts of other ordinance that would go off. And he jokes and says you know, this was our playground, we used to play around this and we had a sense of how dangerous it was. But at the same time they were also playing with small wind-powered toys that they would build out of things they found on the ground. So when his family eventually left Afghanistan. They ended up in Holland. He ended up going to design school and when it came to do his last project for school, his teachers urged him to think back to his culture and come up with a design for something that he thought you know, could help out. And he immediately thought of these wind-powered toys and you know, could a larger scale version of this be used to clear a mine field.

Werman: Well it sounds ingenious, but does it work? Have they tested it?

Boyd: Well, they have tested it and he tested it in conjunction with the Dutch Ordinance Disposal Unit. And I talked to the guy who runs that and he was quite clear and quite frank that this device as it stands is not good for mine clearance. In other words, the idea originally was that it would be strong enough to withstand a number of explosions and could sort of detonate an entire mine field. Well, as it stands now the device kind of blows up and is unusable after it hits a couple of mines. Having said that, you know, it sounds like well, then it's not gonna be very useful because for the United Nations standards you have to clear a mine field to 98% for it to be cleared, which is why the guy at the Dutch Ordinance Disposal Unit said look, this just isn't gonna work the way it's built right now; but he said, there's no reason that maybe humanitarian organizations who are working in a dangerous area and are worried that there may be mines in the area, couldn't deploy one or two of these at least to set the perimeters of where the mine field would be and then you know, the human teams could come in and do the actual de-mining.

Werman: But as you write, Clark, in your Future column, the inventor Hassani is excited about the prospect of tweaking this device and making it work.

Boyd: Oh, absolutely, he's completely committed to it. He wants to try and find ways to make the bamboo stronger so that it will withstand more explosions. He wants to find ways to better integrate the GPS and use the GPS unction of it, and he's even working on another kind of device that would be more of a kind of a roller device that would potentially disable more mines at a time.

Werman: Well, we'll see how this little idea evolves. The World's Clark Boyd who writes about Massoud Hassani's Mine Kafon in his latest column for the BBC Future website. You can read more about it and see a slideshow at our website, theworld.org. Clark, thank you.

Boyd: You're welcome, Marco.

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