A few years ago Massoud Hassani hit the design blogs with his tumbleweed mine detector, the Mine Kafon. A rolling ball of plastic and bamboo, the Kafon was intended partly as a template and partly as a provocation. Hassani, who grew up in Afghanistan near plenty of land mines, wanted to draw attention to the fact that 100 million mines are still in the ground, killing kids every day. And draw attention he did. The tumbleweed was a hit across the Internet and now resides in the New York MoMa.
While that project was (mostly) artistic, Hassani sees more practical potential in his new mine-destroying drone project, which is now funding on Kickstarter. The Mine Kafon Drone is meant to map mine sites, detect mines, and then blow them up, and Hassani hopes it could help clear up mines more efficiently. Working with a team of volunteers and interns in the Netherlands over the last 18 months, he’s built three prototypes, and again, attracted plenty of interest. He hopes to use the Kickstarter money for fine-tuning and get something into production within six months.
The drone works in three stages. First, it flies over a mined areas, checking for telltale patterns: scars in the ground indicating where someone has placed a device. Second, the drone–after being retooled with a detector–flies close to the ground, drawing up a map of mine sites. And third, it returns with small balls of explosives, which it drops on mines, exploding them.
Hassani hopes to cut the cost of de-mining and speed up the process. “The de-mining groups work well, but they’re too slow and they’re using old technologies,” he says. “There is not enough innovation. We are trying to create a better tool for them with robotics and drones to do things faster. If we use the old technology, we won’t be able to get rid of this problem at all in our lifetime.”
Hassani calculates that 40 drones working together could clear a 60-square-mile area in a year, and that a fleet of drones could put a big dent in the 100-million-mine monstrosity in a decade. “The robots used by militaries have a [$78,000] starting price and go up to [$557,000]. That’s too expensive for NGOs or local communities. By keeping it open source, our drones will cost $1,000 to $5,000,” he says.