Scattered across an estimated sixty countries around the world, lie dormant weapons, ready to maim and destroy any who pass them. Indiscriminate against soldier or civilian, these silent killers can lie just beneath the surface of the soil, or are strategically placed above the ground, presented in intriguing colours to make them attractive to children – their biggest target. When triggered, they release unspeakable destruction.
Often thought of as a remanent of wars past, landmines remain a scourge on societies throughout the world. While much work has been done to rid the world of their use and production, the issue of landmines remains to this day, as the world continues to try and overcome the destruction and damage caused by this weapon.
Now one Aussie company is helping lead the charge in innovative ways to help remove these destructive weapons and price their producers out of the market.
History and Use
A “Landmine” is the general time used to classify a weapon containing explosive material with detonating systems that are triggered by contact with a person or vehicle. Within this definition, two separate categories exist – “antipersonnel” landmines and “antitank” landmines. The main focus of both of these categories is to completely incapacitate any person or vehicle through damage caused by an explosive blast.
Crude versions of landmines were reportedly used in the American Civil War, however the use of antipersonnel mines gained proliferation during World War Two. Since then they have been used in many conflicts, including the Vietnam War, the Korean War and the first Gulf War.
Since that time, antipersonnel mines continue to be used, with the strategy behind them moving from a defensive position to often targeting civilians and enemy soldiers in an effort to terrorise communities, deny access to farming land and restrict population movement.
Treaty and the Ban
In 1992, six humanitarian organisations came together with the common goal of eradicating the world of antipersonnel mines. Under the banner of “The International Committee to Ban Landmines” (ICBL), these groups, in close partnership with a small number of states, the ICRC and the UN put in motion what is now known as the “Ottawa Process” that led to the adoption of the Mine Ban Treaty 20 years ago this month.
Since that time, landmine use has dropped dramatically as has global production and trade. Additionally, tens of millions of antipersonnel mines have been destroyed, and large areas of land have been returned to communities. But there is a lot more to be done.
According to international charity group CARE, there are an estimated 110 million antipersonnel mines in the ground, and another 250 million stockpiled in at least 108 countries around the world today. Despite the Mine Ban Treaty, between 5 and 10 million more mines are produced each year.
There are still some 60 countries that are contaminated by landmines, and thousands of people continue to live with the daily threat of losing their life or a limb. The areas worst affected include Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia, Iraq and Laos.
26,000 people a year become victims of anti-personnel landmines. That equates to one person every fifteen minutes. Moreover, 300,000 children (and counting) are severely disabled because of landmines.
An Innovative Solution
Armed with these horrifying statistics, Australian research and development company Molten-Labs Pty Ltd, brought together some of the brightest minds to see if they could come up with a solution. Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Molten-Labs, Dr Paul John Cronin, says that the company was motivated to help eradicate the world from landmines, “These things are so terrible, so inhumane,” he says. “As technology and design were used to create this problem, [we thought] perhaps technology and design might be able to “solve” this problem.”
Dr Cronin and his team have developed a prototype for a robot that can detect and destroy landmines, without the need for human intervention and thus making the process a lot safer and more effective. Dr Cronin says that despite their destructive outcome, landmines are relatively cheap weapons and therefore a goal became to price landmines out of the market. “Our goal is to try and make landmines less ‘cost-effective’”, he says. “If we can reduce the cost of removing landmines dramatically, while increasing the speed and ubiquity of their removal, then warring parties might be less likely to deploy them.”
Molten-Labs were recently awarded the St George Bank’s Kick Start program award, recognising the company’s innovation. While a fully completed robot is still in development, Dr Cronin says that the team are working on get a minimum viable product out into the field for feedback as soon as possible. He is hopeful that the final product can be rolled out quickly, returning land to communities currently living in fear. “We wish to give them back their lands as soon as possible.”