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Soccer robots against landmine mania

Annually 8000 children are being mutilated or killed by landmines. Austria's robots could soon be a great help in saving plenty of lives.

Humanoid soccer robot with tennis ball
Picture by TU Wien

The numbers are terrifying: Intangible 100 millions of landmines worldwide lie around somewhere on the earth just waiting for someone to step on them and tear him up as an innocent victim, like juveniles when playing. Anti-person mines as a barbarous inheritance of long ago terminated wars cost the life of 500 men every month, mutilating another 2000 victims. Every year 8000 children are being crippled and killed because of that kind of mines.

Annually in spite of international agreements another two million netherworld machines are buried in conflict regions: New models (overall there are more than 300 different) are even harder to discover and disarm.

Prof. Peter Kopacek from the technical University Vienna with his team of soccer robot trainers
Picture by T. Micke

Burying a mine is quickly done. Detecting and excavating them is a longer process, costly and perilous. Dogs can be trained, so that they can snoop the TNT of the mines. German researchers lately invented an instrument that is able to identify a typical molecule in explosives. Most of the time metal detectors are employed. Unfortunately they also react on crown caps, beverage cans and other metal on the ground. As a matter of fact there come about a 1000 false alarms per one mine discovery.

Despite all efforts in employing remote controlled machines in order to minimize the number of victims while disarming them, the best method is still manually. As a matter fact mines are often being buried in impassable territories (like in Kosovo) where vaction devices which plough the ground are not able to work. Furthermore this method blowing mines on-site contaminates the soil.

Hazhandler-mine robot at work: No more grass growing here
Picture by TU Wien

Prof. Peter Kopacek from the Technical University of Vienna, Austria knows "evacuated" territories like that: "There is no more grass growing there for 20 to 30 years!" The fact that the professor is nearly a landmine expert quaintly originates in the Soccer World Cup. Not with the one which was celebrated in Portugal lately, but with the FIRA-European Cup in Munich, which just has been ended. In Kopacek's university department for robot technology he has been building and developing soccer robots for years. And in contrary to the unlucky Austrian Krankl-team this national football team became European Champion.

Kopacek: "Robot soccer seems like a useless game in the first place. This way engineers and software experts can invent artificial intelligence and sturdy mechanics to be tested in the competition. Each single player is being remote controlled by a computer. The data processor keeps track of movements with a camera and coordinates all the players regarding the team with different duties. The exact same method allows us to navigate clusters of robots with varied tasks in a mine field."

Mine robots with a different system: Also here no grass will thrive for quite a while
Picture by TU Wien

Mine expert Yvan Bodoin is now realizing the plans of the professor at the Royal Belgian Military Academy. The first wave of systematic sensor searching robots will be so airy, that the mines aligned for human weights will not be deployed. A second and third devices equipped robot swarm should then excavate mines and respectively execute them to be disarmed. This is how the Austrian soccer team stars of the European World Cup could become a team of life-savers.

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© A report by Tobias Micke (27-06-04) – Contact