The land mine detection system is currently being tested in this chamber which absorbs electromagnetic waves

Colombian land mines unearthed by ground-penetrating radar

Ground-penetrating radar systems are being used to detect land mines in Columbia far more effectively than with traditional methods.

German researchers from Ruhr University Bochum are aiming to create a handheld device in the long run that will unfailingly detect different mine types on rough terrain and which can be used in the same way as metal detectors.

Although Colombia has not experienced any military conflicts, many areas are teeming with land mines which have been laid by guerrilla forces and members of drug cartels. As these booby traps were not industrially manufactured but were assembled from various everyday objects, they are almost impossible to detect with traditional methods.

In 2015, the FARC guerrilla and the Colombian government agreed on a comprehensive mine clearance programme. To date, the country’s military has been mainly using metal detectors to search for booby traps. However, the traps contain barely any metal and there are many other metal objects in the ground.

The engineers analyse the radar signals to identify properties that are typical for mines, but are not generated by other objects, such as stones or shrapnel. This information is fed into the analysis of the gathered radar data until enough is acquired to perform an automated search for properties that are typical for mines.

Although the method works in theory, the engineers have to get it up and running in reality and optimise it for application in a handheld device. According to their estimates, this will take another two to three years for a prototype to be completed

“Only one in 2,000 found objects is a mine,” explains Dr Christoph Baer who worked on the project. This renders the search extremely difficult. “All mines must be found, because it is a humanitarian project.”

The team does not plan to file any patents so that the technology can become publicly available.

Last year, British researchers created a detector that can recognise landmines made of plastic using a capacitive/inductive camera to see up to 10cm underground.

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