Researchers from the State University at New York at Binghamton believe that drones can serve a life-saving function by detecting deadly “butterfly” landmines in post-conflict regions of the world.
Among some of the most concerning in a sea of millions of munitions and explosives of varying shapes and sizes worldwide are the mass-produced Soviet PFM-1 “butterfly” landmines. Aptly named, these landmines are tough to locate thanks to their size and butterfly-like shape as well as being made out of plastic components that are undetectable to metal detectors. Their low-pressure triggers add to the high casualty rates, particularly among children who find the devices while playing, earning them the nickname “the toy mines.”
In an effort to locate such landmines, researchers from Binghamton University have developed a way to incorporate inexpensive commercial drones into the detection process by mounting them with infrared cameras to remotely map the thermal conditions of surfaces and record the unique thermal signatures linked to the mine’s plastic casings.
The team discovered, during an early-morning test run, that mines heated up more than the nearby rocks, thus revealing their shape and thermal signature.
"We believe our method holds great potential for eventual widespread use in post-conflict countries, as it increases detection accuracy and allows for rapid wide-area assessment without the need for an operator to come into contact, or even proximity of the minefield," said Nikulin. "Critically, once further developed, this methodology can greatly reduce both costs and labor required for mine clearing operations across post-conflict regions."
"We are actively pursuing this project further and are in the process of field testing and calibrating our methodology," said De Smet. "Ultimately, we hope to develop a fully autonomous multi-drone system that would require minimum input from the operators."
The study is published in The Leading Edge.