Back in 2005, one of my graduate ID thesis students, Joshua Koplin, undertook a project to investigate the world of landmines and demining equipment. It was a daunting task, but after only a few months, he gained an unbelievable amount of expertise, obtained first-hand knowledge by taking trips to Afghanistan and Sarajevo, Cambodia and Thailand. He took on a business partner, Samuel Reeves, to develop a new line of demining equipment, and has continued down this path for the past four years.
Last week, their company, Humanistic Robotics, received a $2 million grant from Bucks County to move their operation from Philadelphia, creating more than a dozen jobs and beginning production on their new product, the Scamp. The Scamp is a demining device which is designed to survive the blast of a detonated landmine (not typically strong, but certainly strong enough to do devastating damage to the human body). It does so by moving slowing across the ground, each wheel exerting 100 to 300 pounds of pressure--enough to trigger an explosion--and "tuned" to the exact characteristics of the mine and field. Hit the jump for the backstory:
There currently exist tens of millions of landmines scattered over approximately 60 countries, leading to starvation, impoverishment and disease. Current methodologies for clearance are slow, costly and dangerous. Approximately 80% of mine clearance is done manually by personnel using metal detectors, prods, flack jackets and helmets. Many of them get killed or injured each year in addition to the tens of thousands of civilians affected. Mechanical methods such as flails, rollers and tillers are usually large, expensive and heavy. In many cases, they cannot be applied to the actual mined infrastructure because of the costs and problems merely associated with moving them to the actual minefield.
The SCAMP is a new twist on the ideology of using rollers to generate ground pressure to simulate the heel strike characteristics created by people walking and detonating mines. The design allows the operator to adjust weight, pressure and ballast. This allows them to tune the design for optimum performance in each unique mined environment. The operator can now take into account which type of mine is being eradicated, what soil and moisture conditions it exists in, and how deeply it is buried. Humanistic Robotics has taken a far more scientific and methodical approach to delivering an adjustable, modular and tunable product that is also far smaller, lighter, cheaper, and easier to transport to the minefield site. Using the logistical envelope of a mere pickup truck, we designed a system that could be transported easily, cost approximately 1/5 the price of its contemporaries, be remote controlled and employed in fleets. This will allow deminers to cover far more ground and speed up the process of demining while simultaneously increasing safety and lowering cost while removing deminers from the minefield itself.
Huge congratulations to Josh and to Sam. It's humbling to be present at the start of something like this, and elating to see how much good will come of it.
More at philly.com.