Toys inspire giant 'dandelion' anti-mine device

Jan 03, 2013 by Jan Hennop
Brothers Massoud (L) and Mahmud Hassani show off their "mine kafon" at their Eindhoven workshop on December 19, 2012. The wind-driven gadget is designed to clear anti-personnel mines in their native Afghanistan.

Childhood toys lost in a war-torn field have inspired an odd-looking invention which its young Dutch inventor hopes can help save thousands of lives and limbs in his native Afghanistan.

Decades of war, notably the 1979-89 Soviet invasion, have left the rugged Afghan countryside littered with that continue to exact a merciless toll, mainly on children.

Now, in a small workshop in the industrial heart of the southern city of Eindhoven, the 29-year-old Massoud Hassani screws in the last leg of an ingenious, wind-driven gadget he built to clear anti-. He calls the device, the size of a golf buggy, a "mine kafon".

"The idea comes from our childhood toys which we once played with as kids on the outskirts of Kabul," Hassani told AFP as he rolled out the device for a demonstration.

Short for "kafondan", which in Hassani's native Dari language means "something that explodes", the kafon consists of 150 bamboo legs screwed into a central metal ball.

At the other end of each leg, a round, white plastic disk the size of a small frisbee is attached via a black rubber car part for drive shafts, called a CV-joint boot.

Assembled, the spherical kafon looks like a giant dandelion head. And like the dandelion puff it moves with the wind: the kafon is designed to be blown around, exploding anti-personnel mines as it rolls on the ground.

With the legs made from bamboo, they are easily replaceable. Once they are blown off it's simply a matter of screwing on others, which means the kafon can be used over and over.

Inside the steel ball, a plots the kafon's path as it rolls through an area that may be mined and shows on a computerised map exactly where it is safe to walk.

Mahmud Hassani pushes the "mine kafon" at the Eindhoven workshop he shares with his brother on December 19, 2012. Decades of war, notably the 1979-89 Soviet invasion, have left the rugged Afghan countryside littered with landmines that continue to exact a merciless toll, mainly on children.

Hassini is still in the testing stages, notably to make sure there is 100 percent contact between the kafon's "feet" and the ground, so no mine is missed.

But initial trials—some using explosives with the Dutch Defence Force—and an in-the-field rolling test in Morocco this year showed promising results.

"We know this is a working prototype and that we need to do lots of testing still," said Hassani, saying the kafon would not be deployed in real situations until it was 100-percent proven.

The designer and his brother Mahmud, 27, are now looking for sponsors, notably through an online platform. They hope to raise 123,000 euros (160,000 dollars) in donations by next month to fund development and take the device to Afghanistan in August for more trials.

It will be the brothers' first time home after fleeing Taliban-ruled Kabul, Massoud first in 1998 then Mahmud two years later, in arduous treks through Pakistan and Uzbekistan. They finally made their way to the Netherlands, where they were accepted as refugees and today hold Dutch citizenship.

Afghan doctors in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif on May 23, 2012 with a woman who lost her leg from a landmine blast. Since 1989, around 650,000 anti-personnel mines, 27,000 anti-tank mines and more than 15 million other pieces of unexploded ordnance have been collected, according to the UN-funded Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (MACCA).

Massoud landed a place at the Design Academy Eindhoven—regarded as one of the world's foremost industrial design schools—where he first conceived the project in 2010.

"I had to design a toy from my childhood," said the shaggy-haired as he sipped a cup of tea.

"I went back into my childhood in a dream. I saw the toys we made and how they rolled into a minefield," he told AFP. "We could never get them back."

Despite huge progress in mine-clearing in Afghanistan in recent years, it remains one of the most-mined countries in the world.

Since 1989, around 650,000 anti-personnel mines, 27,000 anti-tank mines and more than 15 million other pieces of unexploded ordnance have been collected, according to the UN-funded Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan (MACCA).

In June this year, the UN said there were still 5,233 "danger zones" covering 588 square kilometres (227 square miles) putting more than 750,000 people at risk.

At least 812 people were wounded or killed last year by mines, victim-triggered improvised explosive devices and other ordnance left over from the Afghan wars, Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation Handicap International said.

More than half of the victims were children, it said.

The "mine kafon", a wind-driven gadget to clear anti-personnel mines, could save thousands of lives, its inventors say. With the legs made from bamboo, they are easily replaceable. Once they are blown off it's simply a matter of screwing on others, which means the kafon can be used over and over.

"People are killed almost daily in my home country—and tragically it's often kids, like what happened on Monday," said Hassani, eyes clouded with painful memories from his own childhood.

His reference was to a December 17 tragedy when 10 Afghan girls collecting firewood were blown apart in the country's east after one accidentally struck a mine with an axe.

"There is no silver bullet to solve all the problems associated with mine clearing," conceded Mary Wareham, a senior advisor at Human Rights Watch Arms Division. But "we appreciate every effort," including the kafon's invention, she told AFP.

For Hassani, his gadget is more than just a new way to fight a deadly scourge.

"This," he said, "will be our revenge on the war that has torn up our country."

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antialias_physorg
3.3 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2013
With the legs made from bamboo, they are easily replaceable. Once they are blown off it's simply a matter of screwing on others, which means the kafon can be used over and over.

While I think it's a great (an very original) invention I have a bit of quaesy feeling about its actual use in the field for a number of reasons:

1) It's a haphazard way of clearing a minefield. You can never be sure you got all the mines in an area.

2) When it finds a mine it gets partially destroyed - and stops rolling. So someone has to walk into the minefield and get it back out? That seems dangerous.

3) Afghan territory seems rather uneven/rocky. Will it work on anything but a rather clear surface?

4) What about any surface that isn't completely level? Won't it just roll into a dell and be stuck?

That said: it most certainly beats out doing nothing by a wide margin.
Pediopal
1.5 / 5 (8) Jan 03, 2013
The United States, being the largest and most lucrative dealer of arms in the world...I wonder if perhaps it was "US" that provided the Soviets with those mines. As the world biggest promoter of Christianity and capitalism seems both ironic and sensible at the same time. No wonder the rest of the world thinks we have questionable intentions.
Anglachel
2.7 / 5 (3) Jan 03, 2013
@Pediopal The US might currently be the biggest exporter of arms (in absolute numbers) but the Soviets made a lot of weapons as well and were also a big exporter (like Russia is today). Also, since the US supported the Afghan resistance (mujaheddin) it would not have made any sense to sell mines to the Soviets. How many mines, if any, were provided to the mujaheddin I do not know but I would think the Soviet Army is responsible for most of the mines. The irony here is instead that the US supported mujaheddin later spawned al-Qaida.
antialias_physorg
2 / 5 (2) Jan 03, 2013
The irony here is instead that the US supported mujaheddin later spawned al-Qaida.

You mean like the US sponsored republican guard formed the Iranian government? Or the US sponsored Baahtist regime to fight that government came to power in Iraq under Saddam Hussein? Then the US Afghanis sponsored to fight the russians turned into Al Quaeda. And the US sponsored North alliance turned against the US?

...I dunno. Sometimes it seems that either the US is the dumbest sponsor, ever. Or it's a not-so-well-hidden plan to sponsor/arm future enemies with taxpayer money so that private coroporations can get rich selling weapons to fight them.
tadchem
1 / 5 (6) Jan 03, 2013
The issue here is how to get rid of the mines, not who made them who bought them, or who deployed them. Finger-pointing will not save the lives and limbs of the innocent.
An improvement would be to develop technology (perhaps millimeter wave scanners?) that could locate the concealed mines remotely.
[FWIW, the US really is the dumbest sponsor ever.]
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 03, 2013
I think the mine flail vehicles are the best (most time efficient, safe and thorough) ways of getting rid of mines.

But they also aren't for every terrain. Can't use them inside forrests or areas with too many rocks.

I remember reading about rats trained to sniff out mines (dogs are too heavy and sometimes trip the mines).
http://edition.cn...dex.html
If rats could mark the mines then one could float a toy blimp or a hexacopter with a weight over them. Drop the weight and detonate the mine. Rinse. Repeat.
Gigel
1 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2013
1) It's a haphazard way of clearing a minefield. You can never be sure you got all the mines in an area.

2) When it finds a mine it gets partially destroyed - and stops rolling. So someone has to walk into the minefield and get it back out? That seems dangerous.


1) True, but it's better to manually clear a minefield with less mines active. Those mines are planted randomly anyway.

2) It may be destroyed, but still functional. On the other side, if it is destroyed then it found a real minefield and it's a sign for people not to run into it. The device is simple, so it makes no sense to replace it. It's much better to use a lot of them in a field instead of just one.

3,4) It all depends on the wind. On strong winds it should become mobile again.

The device is as good as it is and that is certainly much more than nothing when it comes to minefields, as you said.
Gigel
1 / 5 (1) Jan 03, 2013

An improvement would be to develop technology (perhaps millimeter wave scanners?) that could locate the concealed mines remotely.
[FWIW, the US really is the dumbest sponsor ever.]

Microwave scanners linked to a visual pattern recognition system (neural networks or human-driven) may work well on dry soils. An X-ray or gamma-ray scanner may be good on any soil, but it may need distancing the receiver from the X-ray generator; X-rays tend to reflect under low angles with the reflective surface, i.e. grazing reflection.

I wonder wheter stationary electric/magnetic fields may be used from above in order to image objects under the soil through their permitivity.

Another way would be to use chemical (i.e. smell) sensors in order to detect explosives and plastics.
sirchick
not rated yet Jan 04, 2013
What about one of these:
http://cdn.walyou...lane.jpg

With a metal detector attatched to it, you could program it easily to be sure it covers 100% of a field.
Gigel
1 / 5 (1) Jan 04, 2013
@sirchick: That one is very good as a platform. Yet metal detectors may not be good at all. If they were, it would already be very easy to find land mines. But... most land mines don't have much metal into them, I think!
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Jan 04, 2013
On the other side, if it is destroyed then it found a real minefield and it's a sign for people not to run into it.

my point is that while this is then good as a mine detector (i.e. that there ARE mines in the vicinity) it's not good as a mine removal device - because the area where you have detected one (or a dozen) mines may well hold many more even after you've let these things run wild for days. The best you can do afterwards is cordon off the arae and wait until some real mine disposal techniques are used.

That's why currently mine removal is a very methodical process. You divvy the area up in squares and mthodically work to clear all mines per subsection (or run over it with a flail or a scoop that works to such a density on the land that you can guarantee that all mines have been triggered)