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Afghan harnesses wind for landmine detonation

posted 4 Dec 2012, 06:14 by Mpelembe   [ updated 4 Dec 2012, 06:14 ]

Could a ball made of bamboo and biodegradable plastic detonate deadly landmines? Afghan designerMassoud Hassani says his device can do just that, despite the scepticism of some experts. With this week's meeting of signatory countries to the Mine Ban Treaty taking place in Geneva, Hassani hopes to grab the attention of the world's decision makers and gain funding for his device, which started out as a university project.

 EINDHOVENTHE NETHERLANDS (NOVEMBER 20, 2012) (REUTERS) -An Afghan designer and former refugee has developed a low-cost, wind-powered mine detonating device at a fraction of the price of traditional manual diffusion techniques. Dutch-basedMassoud Hassani hopes Mine Kafon, composed almost entirely from bamboo and biodegradable plastics, can help in the fight to deactivate many of the 100 million plus killing devices that the United Nations (UN)

estimate to be lying hidden in the ground.

The 29-year-old design graduate created Mine Kafon - which translates as Mine Detector in Dari - as his graduation project at the Design Academy in Eindhoven. A spherical skeletal structure of spiky plungers, it's 1.9 metres in diameter and weighs 70 kilograms. Hassani says his invention is light enough to be propelled by a normal breeze, while still being heavy and large enough to activate mines as it rolls over them. Each 'plunger' has a circular flat base which is designed to detonate any mine that it touches.

"Every foot has a circular form of a frisbee, so it's kind of catching the wind from inside. There are about 170 feet with aerodynamic shapes to catch the wind, so that's why it's very easy moving and at the same time it's light enough to move around and also heavy enough to detonate landmines," said Hassani.

Hassani claims the Mine Kafon -- which includes a basic GPS tracking device used to record the area cleared by its tumbling path - costs as little as $40 USD to build. If it makes it to the manufacturing level, it would be the cheapest landmine-detonating device ever made.

Mine Kafon was inspired by a toy Hassani designed as a child, a small rolling object which was carried by the wind, that he would race against similar rudimentary craft in local fields.

What started life as an academic flight of fancy has since undergone strength testing by the Dutch military. This year, a full-scale mock-up was tested in the deserts around Morocco and Hassani hopes to raise $100,000 so he can engineer the design to mass produced, industry standards.

Hassani says the core sphere containing the GPS system is high enough from the ground to avoid damage from most anti-personnel mines. The lengths of the spikes are based on the average height of an adult's leg - because the kinds of mines that it is designed to clear are those that will take a leg off below the waist of an adult. He says that one of his devices can withstand up to four explosions before it loses too many of its legs to carry on.

However, some are sceptical about Mine Kafon's chances of ever meeting the official International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) - considered to be the minimum grade of delivery for responsible mine clearing operations. Adam Komorowski, head of operations at the UK-based Mine Advisory Group, calls the design well-intentioned, but believes Hassani's creation is undermined by its dependence on the serendipity of random gusts. He believes this makes it a haphazard option in a field traditionally characterised by highly methodical techniques in which every square centimetre of land is checked by experts. This method can be prohibitively expensive - in some cases it costs thousands of dollars to clear just a single mine.

After Hassani's tests conducted in the Moroccan desert, the Dutch Explosive Disposal Ordnance Unit who witnessed them said that in its present form the Mine Kafon is not suitable for military purposes.

Hassani is aware of the limitations and says he has a number of solutions in the pipeline, including a remote-controlled model with a motor and a metal detector, so that even if it fails to detonate a mine the device should map-out the presence of metal structures underneath.

Today there are an estimated 110 million anti-personnel mines in the ground and another 250 million stockpiled in at least 108 countries around the world.

Whether the Mine Kafon can be engineered to overcome the criticisms of industry insiders, the strikingly-designed structure has already brought the issue of landmine clearance to new audiences in the design world. It was recently showcased during Dutch Design Week and the Lodz Design Festival, and in March 2012 will be displayed at New York's prestigious Museum of Modern Art.

After his father was killed in a rocket attack during the late 1980s, Hassani fled Afghanistan with his mother, brother and sisters. Living first in Uzbekistan, then travelling through central Asia and ending up four years later as a refugee in Holland, Hassani went on to study at the Design Academy in Eindhoven.

Hassani, whose brother Mahmud helps build the devices, is now looking for crowd funding like Kickstarter to move the project to the manufacturing level.

Meanwhile a week-long meeting of 160 signatory countries to the Mine Ban Treaty has started inGeneva to discuss how to improve the accord, which bans the production, deployment and export of landmines and provides for helping victims. It obliges signatory states to destroy stock piles and clear mines on their territory, even if deployed by other countries during conflicts, and offers them financial support for this costly and often dangerous effort.

The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) says only India, Myanmar, Pakistan and South Korea are known to be actively producing mines, which were killing or injuring 12 people a day worldwide on average during 2011.

Last week the ICBL's annual Landmine Monitor said that this year only Syria had deployed the weapons, laying them along its borders with Lebanon and Turkey as it battles insurgents seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad.