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Safer demining with ‘bird’-like drone design

21 December 2016

Researchers intend to develop a drone with magnetometers capable of mapping mines in former war zones, which will make demining less dangerous.

Drone design (Credit: DTU)

Mines are usually made of magnetic steel, and the search for mines therefore often involves ‘magnetometers’ - instruments capable of measuring minor magnetic deviations in the subsurface and thereby localising the mines.

“The plan is for our drone and its magnetometer module to make demining more precise than the current method of using off-road vehicles on land and special divers in coastal areas. It will also minimise the risk of injuries for the people involved, as the drone can be operated from a safe position outside the mined areas,” explains Arne Døssing, Senior Research, DTU Space, who heads the project of developing the new technology.

Døssing believes that the new demining system could reduce the costs and time of mapping the presence of mines by more than 50 percent.

Arne Døssing is the originator of the idea to develop the new demining system consisting of a newly developed drone type with a frame installed underneath it, which will be specially developed by DTU Space researchers. The frame is referred to as a ‘magnetometer bird’, as the magnetometer is embedded in the frame, which is attached to the drone and hangs approx. 5-10m below it.

“It will be the first drone in the world to fly with a ‘bird’ underneath it. This construction is absolutely necessary to ensure the ultra-sensitive magnetometers are as close to the surface as possible, at the same time as minimising exposure to magnetic disturbances from other instruments and from the flying drone,” says Døssing.

For the same reason, the equipment designed to measure the exact position of the drone - and thus of the detected mines - is installed in the drone rather than in the ‘bird’. This takes place in close collaboration between DTU researchers and the Danish drone company Sky-Watch A/S.

The drone itself is also an innovation. It has been developed by Sky-Watch, and in addition to the ability to fly like a regular aircraft, it allows for vertical take-off and landing in the same way as a helicopter.

Initially, the researchers will be focusing on the need to clear mines from World War II, before laying power cables to new offshore wind turbines. It is assumed that the number of unexploded mines from World War II hidden in the sea and on land exceeds 40,000.

The magnetometer drone will furthermore be tested in the mountains of Greenland, where it may have an impact on the search for mineral deposits or military waste, and it will also be tested from a vessel in relation to its ability to detect large mines in deeper waters. In both cases, the drone’s ability to take off and land vertically is significant.

Over the next four years, researchers from DTU Space will develop and test the new technology. The hope is that in the long term, the technology can supplement the existing mine detection technologies, which are both expensive and inefficient. 

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