Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 4, 2023

Sound wave detection helps mine sweepers see what lies underground

Landmines kill thousands of people each year, over half of whom are children. Over 100 million landmines are scattered around the globe, and it is estimated that it will take more than 100 years to clear them at the current rate of removal.

The most widely used technology in landmine detection senses the presence of metal in the ground. The problem with this technology is that is works too well, finding every piece of buried metal, including wires, harmless shrapnel and soda cans (also known as metallic clutter).

Considering this, a de-miner with a metal detector is forced to remove every piece of metal from the ground as if it is a landmine, undertaking a painstakingly slow excavation process. “For every 1,000 pieces of metal we clear, the mine detector goes off 100,000 times,” Bill Morse, The President of the Landmine Relief Fund, remarks.

This ratio of landmines to metallic clutter is astounding; it is no surprise that at this rate that it will take more than 100 years to clear the earth of these remnants of war. A newly-formed company, Red Lotus Technologies, aims to address this challenge with its technology, PETALS (Pattern Enhancement Tool for Assisting Landmine Sensing). With PETALS Live, an application that can be downloaded to the iPhone, deminers can classify underground objects as types of metallic clutter or as threats, drastically increasing the rate of land clearance.

Imagine a de-miner traveling over a plot of land with a detector in hand, slowly moving the detector left and right over a 1 meter wide lane. He continues to move forward down this lane until the sounds omitted by his detector tell him that he has found a piece of metal. The deminer will then pinpoint the location of the buried object and its approximate size by moving the detector around and over the object.

During this process he will estimate where the buried object lies and its size. The de-miner then begins to excavate the object by digging and probing the ground until he identifies the object as a threat of metallic clutter.

Assuming a threat is found, a de-miner will then either neutralize the landmine immediately, or mark it for removal by an explosives removal team. Following these steps, the average deminer clears 15 - 20 square meters per day.

Now imagine that the deminer has a tool that shows him the shape of buried objects: PETALS Live does just this.

Using smartphone technology, PETALS Live maps out the audio feedback from the detector, displaying a silhouette of an undergound object. This silhouette helps a deminer to classify a buried object as a live threat or as simply metallic clutter.

PETALS Live allow a deminer to both ‘see’ the shape of an object and its configuration. For example, a deminer using PETALS Live is able to see if there is an anti-personnel mine positioned right next to an anti-tank mine or two small anti-personnel mines next to each other. This information not only helps to speed up the process of landmine detection and removal, but also enhances the safety of deminers worldwide.

Red Lotus Technologies is currently developing this product and expects it to be to market in late 2013. They are currently running a crowd funding campaign to prototype the technology.

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