Drones and AI: The Future of Demining

How Drones and AI are Revolutionizing Landmine Detection

Landmines and unexploded ordnance contaminate about a third of , an area the size of . This dangerous reality underscores the urgent need for innovative solutions. Enter Gabriel Steinberg and Jasper Baur, co-founders of the nonprofit Demining Research Community and the startup Safe Pro AI. In an interview with IEEE Spectrum, they explain how their drone and AI technology is set to revolutionize the painstaking process of finding and neutralizing landmines.

Traditional Demining Methods: Slow and Risky

Traditional demining methods haven't evolved much since World War I. Humanitarian deminers typically rely on manual detection, using metal detectors and mine probes to painstakingly clear areas inch by inch. This method is not only slow but also perilous, exposing deminers to significant risk. They often gather intelligence from locals and create rough maps of contaminated zones, which guide the meticulous and dangerous task of clearing these areas.

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Enter Drones and AI: Speeding Up the Process

Steinberg and Baur's solution leverages drones equipped with advanced AI software to significantly expedite this process. Their system, known as , allows deminers to analyze drone imagery more effectively, pinpointing areas with high contamination. This targeted approach means that the most expensive and dangerous parts of demining—human and mechanical clearance—can be deployed more efficiently.

“We provide AI and mapping software for the deminers to analyze their drone imagery much more effectively,” says Steinberg.

By reducing the time spent analyzing drone data, deminers can quickly identify and focus on the most hazardous areas, enhancing both speed and safety.

How It Works: Visual Sensors and Machine Learning

The technology uses visual sensors on drones to capture detailed imagery of potentially contaminated areas. This imagery is then analyzed by AI, trained on data from both real-world and inert explosives. This combination of advanced imagery and machine learning helps to accurately identify the presence of landmines and unexploded ordnance.

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Initially, the project used thermal sensors to detect landmines based on heat anomalies. However, they found that visual imagery, processed through machine learning, provided more consistent and reliable results, especially in areas like Ukraine where much of the ordnance is on or near the surface.

Real-World Impact: From Research to Application

The journey from university research to real-world application was marked by several significant milestones. It began in 2016 with Baur's research project at Binghamton University in and evolved into a robust technology solution that outperformed in a Tech Briefs competition. Recognizing the potential impact of their work, Steinberg and Baur founded the Demining Research Community in 2020 to secure funding and push the technology forward.

Their for-profit arm, Safe Pro AI, was acquired by Safe Pro Group in 2023, enabling them to bring their flagship product, Spotlight, to market. This software has already proven effective in various real-world settings, including a United Nations Development Program demonstration in Ukraine, where their technology successfully identified both known and unknown ordnance.

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Challenges and the Road Ahead

Despite the successes, the road hasn't been easy. The vast scale of contaminated areas, combined with the need for rapid and accurate analysis, presented significant challenges. During a UN demonstration, Steinberg and Baur had to adapt their software on the fly to handle a much larger area than they had ever attempted before. Their ability to quickly iterate and improve their technology was crucial to their success.

Their recent trip to Ukraine underscored the importance of their work. Seeing the devastation and speaking with affected communities reinforced their commitment to this mission.

“It's impossible to describe how that feels being there. It's really impactful, and it makes the work that I'm doing feel not like I have a choice anymore,” Steinberg reflects.

DroneXL's Take

The combination of drones and AI represents a groundbreaking advance in the field of demining. By speeding up the detection process and improving accuracy, this technology not only saves time and money but also lives. As the conflict in Ukraine continues to evolve, the need for efficient and effective demining solutions will only grow. Steinberg and Baur's innovative approach is a promising step toward a safer, mine-free world.

Photos courtesy of Scientific American.


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Haye Kesteloo
Haye Kesteloo

Haye Kesteloo is the Editor in Chief and Founder of DroneXL.co, where he covers all drone-related news, DJI rumors and writes drone reviews, and EVXL.co, for all news related to electric vehicles. He is also a co-host of the PiXL Drone Show on YouTube and other podcast platforms. Haye can be reached at haye @ dronexl.co or @hayekesteloo.

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