Four Johns Hopkins undergraduate engineering students have designed and built a remote-controlled robotic vehicle to find deadly land mines in rugged terrain and mark their location with a spray of paint. The prototype has been given to professional explosive detection researchers as a model for a low-cost robot that humanitarian groups and military troops could use to prevent mine-related deaths and injuries.
The project resulted from a challenge to the students by Carl V. Nelson, a principal staff physicist at The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Nelson had developed new sensors to help detect land mines, but he needed a device to carry these sensors into areas of thick vegetation where explosives are often hidden. He presented his requirements last fall to a team of students enrolled in the two-semester Engineering Design Project course offered by the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Johns Hopkins.
"I asked the students to develop a vehicle that could get off the road, off the clear paths and go into rougher terrain like bushes and high grass, where mine detection would be difficult to do by hand," Nelson said.
The need for such a device was clear. Nelson pointed to a United Nations
estimate that more than 100 million land mines are deployed in 70 countries
worldwide, planted during military conflicts dating back as far as World
War II. The cheap but highly dangerous devices can be set off by civilians
as well as soldiers, and more than 2,000 people are killed or maimed by
mine explosions each month, the United Nations estimates. Nelson is one
of many researchers looking for safe, efficient and relatively inexpensive
ways to locate the hazards.
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