Afghan brothers who had ‘minefield as playground’ develop drone to clear mines


As young boys growing up on the outskirts of the Afghan capital, Mahmud Hassani and his brother Massoud saw firsthand the damage landmines did to anyone unlucky enough to stumble across them.

It was the memory of the destruction caused by landmines left over from the 1980s – when Afghan rebels fought Soviet forces – that inspired the brothers to develop a drone prototype to detect and destroy the explosive devices.

Their invention was on Wednesday featured in the NT100, a list by Britain-based charity Nominet Trust of innovations that use technology to tackle major world problems.
“For us it was normal. For us it was a playground with landmines,” Mahmud Hassani told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, recalling the patch of land near his childhood home where he and others would play.

Hassani said the Mine Kafon Drone aimed to map, detect and detonate landmines.

Fitted with a 3D mapping system, the drone locates landmines with a metal detector. Using a robotic arm, it places a small detonator on top of them before setting off the device remotely.

An estimated 10 million landmines have been planted in Afghanistan, which in 2015 recorded the highest number of mine-related casualties in the world, with 1,310 people killed or wounded, according to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).

Some 6,461 people were killed or injured by mines, victim-activated explosive devices and unexplored weapons left behind after war across the world in 2015, ICBL said last month.

More than three quarters of the victims were civilians, 38 percent of them children.

Hassani, who lives in the Netherlands along with his brother, said their drone prototype was up to 120 times cheaper and 20 times faster than traditional mine clearing techniques.

There was also no risk for humans, he added.

Other projects picked out by Nominet Trust which provides funding for social technology purposes, included WaterScope, a 3D printing system to test water quality and Kiron, an online platform providing university courses to refugees.