Drones could be used to detect dangerous 'butterfly' landmines in post-conflict regions

June 19, 2018, Binghamton University
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Drones could be used to detect dangerous "butterfly" landmines in remote regions of post-conflict countries, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University at New York.

It is estimated that there are at least 100 million military munitions and explosives of concern devices in the world, of various size, shape and composition. Millions of these are surface plastic landmines with low-pressure triggers, such as the mass-produced Soviet PFM-1 "butterfly" landmine. Nicknamed for their small size and butterfly-like shape, these mines are extremely difficult to locate and clear due to their small size, low trigger mass and, most significantly, a design that mostly excluded metal components, making these devices virtually invisible to metal detectors. Critically, the design of the mine combined with a low triggering weight have earned it notoriety as "the toy mine," due to a high casualty rate among small children who find these devices while playing and who are the primary victims of the PFM-1 in post-conflict nations, like Afghanistan.

Researchers at Binghamton University have developed a method that allows highly accurate detection of "butterfly" landmines from low-cost commercial drones. Assistant Professor of Energy Geophysics Alex Nikulin and Director of the Geophysics and Remote Sensing Laboratory Timothy de Smet used mounted infrared cameras to remotely map the dynamic thermal conditions of the surface and recorded unique thermal signatures associated with the plastic casings of the mines. During an early-morning experiment, they found that the mines heated up at a much-greater rate than surrounding rocks, and they were able to identify the mines by their shape and apparent thermal signature. Results indicate that this methodology holds considerable potential to rapidly identify the presence of surface plastic MECs during early-morning hours, when these devices become thermal anomalies relative to surrounding geology.

Drones could be used to detect dangerous 'butterfly' landmines in remote regions of post-conflict countries, according to new research from Binghamton University, State University at New York. Credit: Binghamton University, State University at New York.
"We believe our method holds great potential for eventual wide-spread use in post-conflict countries, as it increases detection accuracy and allows for rapid wide-area assessment without the need for an operator to come into contact, or even proximity of the minefield," said Nikulin. "Critically, once further developed, this methodology can greatly reduce both costs and labor required for mine clearing operations across post-conflict regions."

The use of cost- and time-efficient techniques to detect plastic MECs such as the butterfly mine from unmanned aerial vehicles has enormous potential that warrants further study, wrote the researchers.

"We are actively pursuing this project further and are in the process of field testing and calibrating our methodology," said De Smet. "Ultimately, we hope to develop a fully autonomous multi-drone system that would require minimum input from the operators."

The peer-reviewed paper, "Catching "butterflies" in the morning: A new methodology for rapid detection of aerially deployed land mines from UAVs," was published in the May 2018 issue of The Leading Edge.

Explore further: Scientists fly drone over Old Trafford to research landmine clearance

More information: Timothy S. de Smet et al, Catching "butterflies" in the morning: A new methodology for rapid detection of aerially deployed plastic land mines from UAVs, The Leading Edge (2018). DOI: 10.1190/tle37050367.1

Related Stories

Glowing bacteria detect buried landmines

April 11, 2017

The need for safe and efficient technologies for detecting buried landmines and unexploded ordnance is a humanitarian issue of immense global proportions. About half a million people around the world are suffering from mine-inflicted ...

220,000 children threatened by mines in Ukraine's east: UN

December 21, 2017

Hundreds of thousands of children are at imminent risk of being hit by mines and other explosive weapons in war-torn eastern Ukraine, one of the most mine-contaminated places on earth, a UN report said Thursday.

Engineer creating more sensitive, safer landmine detectors

October 30, 2008

Long after a conflict, landmines remain buried underground unless someone can locate and detonate them. According to the United Nations (UN), there are more than 100 million landmines buried in 68 countries around the world. ...

System developed to detect plastic anti-personnel mines

December 22, 2009

A team of European researchers has devised a method for locating plastic anti-personnel mines, which are manufactured to avoid detection by metal detectors. The technique involves analysing the temperature of the ground in ...

Using technology to detect hidden threats

February 9, 2018

Soldiers in combat have to constantly scan their surroundings for improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a signature weapon of modern warfare. These homemade bombs are often hidden—nestled in bushes, buried underground, or ...

Recommended for you

Meteorite source in asteroid belt not a single debris field

February 17, 2019

A new study published online in Meteoritics and Planetary Science finds that our most common meteorites, those known as L chondrites, come from at least two different debris fields in the asteroid belt. The belt contains ...

Diagnosing 'art acne' in Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings

February 17, 2019

Even Georgia O'Keeffe noticed the pin-sized blisters bubbling on the surface of her paintings. For decades, conservationists and scholars assumed these tiny protrusions were grains of sand, kicked up from the New Mexico desert ...

Archaeologists discover Incan tomb in Peru

February 16, 2019

Peruvian archaeologists discovered an Incan tomb in the north of the country where an elite member of the pre-Columbian empire was buried, one of the investigators announced Friday.

Where is the universe hiding its missing mass?

February 15, 2019

Astronomers have spent decades looking for something that sounds like it would be hard to miss: about a third of the "normal" matter in the Universe. New results from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory may have helped them ...

What rising seas mean for local economies

February 15, 2019

Impacts from climate change are not always easy to see. But for many local businesses in coastal communities across the United States, the evidence is right outside their doors—or in their parking lots.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.