Landmines are a destructive weapon of war that often times outlive the conflict they had been implemented for. Today, civilians around the world are inheriting the landmine crisis from both current wars and earlier conflicts. An estimated 110 million landmines are active in the ground right now, killing and maiming more than 5,000 people every year.
The Difficulties of Landmine Removal
Although landmines are an urgent global issue, removing them is painstakingly difficult for three main reasons:
- Time—the detection and demining of landmines take a good deal of time. In fact, it is estimated that if landmines continue to be removed at the current rate (with no new mines added), it would take approximately 1,100 years to completely rid the world of them.
- Cost—mines only cost between $3 and $30, making them effective tools for combat in both cost and casualty effectiveness. Removing them, however, can cost between $300 to $1,000. Removing all landmines would cost anywhere between $50 to $100 billion. Since most countries affected tend to be poorer, the cost of mine removal can be extremely detrimental.
- Risk—most minefields are unmarked. It is not unusual to find mines laid in agricultural fields, around irrigation systems and in forests that provide villages with firewood. (That is if they are not inside the villages themselves). Civilians and professionals alike are at risk of death or severe injuries; for every 5,000 mines successfully removed, one deminer is killed and two more are wounded.
Instead of becoming discouraged by how problematic the landmine crisis actually is, one Indian teen rose to the challenge of innovating smarter landmine removal.
The Inventor of the Mine-Detecting Air Drones
One day, now 15-year-old techie Harshwardhansinh Zala came across a YouTube video of military men who were detecting landmines in an active minefield. While soldiers explained the landmine crisis to their viewers, one landmine exploded. Consequently, the blast killed and injured many of the soldiers present. The video horrified Zala, who felt like he could be doing more to aid in the demining efforts. This spurred him and a few of his friends to begin a startup electronics company named Aerobotics7. Their primary task? To create a prototypical air drone to replace human deminers. Hypothetically, the drone could detect and mark buried landmines while being remotely controlled by an operator at a safe distance.
Zala explains how the drone would work: “Our drone will go on to the field, survey the whole ground, send the real-time signals to the army base station, and our drone will also drop a package to mark the location. The army can detonate the landmines with our wireless detonator, without any human risk.”
Zala plans on giving the finished product to his government to help them safely detect mines.
Although his drone may not decrease the cost of removing mines or speed up the process of demining, it would help spot and mark landmines across the globe, potentially saving the lives of those who might have accidentally stumbled upon an unmarked minefield otherwise. Warning civilians of the dangers around them is the most time-sensitive aspect of the landmine crisis, after all, and though removing all landmines may take centuries, Zala’s air drone could be helping people stay safe today.
– Haley Hiday
Photo: Sumit Baruh for Forbes India