Innovation at HI

Demining drones: a mine clearance revolution?

Humanity & Inclusion, in conjunction with new technology companies, will start testing minefield survey drones in northern Chad in February 2019. Drones, which can map suspected hazardous areas remotely have the potential to revolutionize landmine clearance operations. If successful, drones would help target mine clearance areas more precisely and reduce the length of time it takes for teams to return contaminated land to civilians.

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"Drones can hopefully provide considerable assistance in demining by reducing tenfold the time it takes to implement non-technical surveys, a phase that consists in identifying and demarcating potentially hazardous areas requiring the intervention of demining teams,” explains Emmanuel Sauvage, Head of Armed Violence Reduction at HI. “This phase is sometimes longer than the mine clearance operations themselves. By providing accurate data for mapping areas to be cleared, the drones will also help us to deploy our mine-clearance teams in a more targeted way.”

Clearing land and keeping people safe from weapons is at the core of our DNA. Innovation such as this is vital in order to meet the vast needs of mine clearance operations. In Chad alone, 39 square miles of land are contaminated by mines and explosive remnants of war. HI and its partners plan to clear 1.1 square miles over four years, relying on several mine clearance teams and a mine clearance machine.

In places like Chad, Laos, and Colombia, mines and explosive remnants of war pose a daily threat to civilians. In fact, in 61 countries around the world, explosive ordnance post a real obstacle to development. The Landmine Monitor 2017 report reveals that the number of new casualties of anti-personnel mines, factory-made or improvised, and explosive remnants of war increased by almost 25% in one year, rising from 6,967 casualties in 2015 to 8,605 casualties in 2016. The number of casualties nearly doubled between 2014 and 2015 (6,967 new casualties in 2015 compared with 3,993 in 2014).

From February to October 2019, HI will conduct trials near Faya-Largeau in northern Chad. By flying over large areas in a very short amount of time, the drone will significantly reduce the length of what mine clearance professionals call the "non-technical survey,” a field investigation phase that determines whether mines and explosive remnants are potentially present, thus requiring the intervention of mine clearance experts.

By providing aerial evidence of the presence or absence of mines and geolocation data, drones will also make it possible to create more precise boundaries of areas where deminers need to intervene, reducing intervention times. During the test phase, HI will also explore the possibility of developing a drone equipped with a radar to detect subsurface mines.

With financial support from the Belgian Government's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, HI partnered with Mobility Robotics, a specialist in drone piloting, Third Element Aviation, a manufacturer of customized drones and sensor designer, Inzentive, which has developed a data management service, and Dynergie, a company tasked with making innovative proposals on demining methods.

Our mine action teams regularly conduct tests with companies and research teams based on new technologies. In addition to testing mine clearance drones, HI has embarked on a "mapping challenge" with research groups to convert satellite images into maps of previously unmapped areas, essential for emergency operations.