Justine Newsome on a combination of ultrasound and electromagnetics that helps detect landmines
Last December, 121
countries signed the Ottawa agreement banning
anti-personnel landmines. Scientists worldwide are
working on a range of technologies to detect the many
different types of mines that have been deployed.
In Ecuador, two
European scientists have spent the past eight months
working on a detection method that combines
electromagnetics and ultrasound.
mines on the market are "in theory detectable but
not in practice" with current methods, says Alfred
Kolb, a German military engineer who used to work for
Nasa. Tiny metal parts can be shrouded in
impenetrable plastic and "expensive mines are so
well encapsulated that so-called sniffers can't smell
anything," he says.
Together with Jesus
Vila, a Spanish physicist, Mr Kolb has been using
electromagnetic waves to detect faults in
conductivity. In laboratory experiments to detect
objects such as Italian and Russian mines buried in sand,
the pair found that each object gave a unique
conductivity reading at certain frequencies. There
was a marked difference at a specific frequency, for
instance, between an empty bottle and one filled with
provide "confirmation" data.
"Whenever human life is at risk, a protection system
is needed to reduce risk so far as is technologically
possible," Mr Kolb says.
Once software to
interpret the datastream from readings has been
developed, the kit together with a specially adapted
computer, battery pack and electrodes for reading will
fit into a rucksack, the basic gear for "intensive
demining groups with minimal personal risk".
A rucksack kit could
be used to survey one or two square kilometres at a time,
depending on the terrain, the scientists predict.
The same equipment on a larger scale with a wider range
could fit in a lorry.
$38,000 (£22,900) in equipment, the scientists need
$300,000 over the next eight months to take their
research beyond the laboratory, says John Fleming,
manager of Quito-based San Lucas Investments, which has
been helping them raise funds. The final stage will
be to find a company to design the software and adapt a
They will not be
short of a testing ground. Ecuador has signed a
peace agreement ending a 56-year border conflict with
Peru in October and up to 150,000 mines must be cleared
from the border area.
San Lucas Investments, Ecuador:
Tel: (593 2) 2986 597 / 2986 598. Fax: (593 2) 2986 599.
If this page doesn't have a frame, click here to go to the main page.