Enlisting Drones To Help Clear Mines

Mapping out minefields

When planning how to clear landmines and other explosive remnants of war (ERW) from an area of land, demining operators are usually confined to ground level, either in vehicles or on foot in safe paths and areas cleared in advance by metal detectors. Some new minefields have proven difficult to access because of their size or terrestrial features and imagery from maps and satellite images can often be outdated and old. 

APOPO and CMAC will now address this problem through the use of drones. Simply by flying over a site, the drone can produce high-resolution imagery and video that can be used to create a map which is far better than the hand-drawn maps that currently exist. 

Between the 12th and 16th of December 2017 APOPO organized and ran an Aerial Mapping and 3D Modeling introduction course using the DJI Phantom Pro drone. The course was aimed at providing attendees an introduction on the use of drones in demining operations. Members from APOPO, CMAC and Cambodian Self Help Demining attended the one-week course, which covered topics such as an Introduction to Modern Photogrammetry, Flight Planning, Ground Control Points, selecting and improving the quality of captured images amongst others. All attendees passed the course successfully and were awarded certificates of participation.

When Cambodia signed the Ottawa Treaty in 2000, it made a pledge to clear its anti-personnel mines with the help of international donors.  Since then it has already extended the deadline once and is now aiming to have its minefields cleared by 2020. According to the latest Landmine Monitor, Cambodia was one of four countries that achieved the largest total clearance of mined areas in 2016. Alongside Afghanistan, Croatia and Iraq, these countries accounted for more than 83% of recorded clearance. And yet Cambodia is still not on track with its obligations to clear landmines and assist victims.

APOPO sees promising potential for the use of drone imagery in planning their demining operations. “We see that drones provide a fast and easy way of capturing images of natural and man-made land features and the images acquired are used to enhance planning and recording capabilities during the demining process,” reports Paul McCarthy the APOPO Program Manager in Cambodia. 

Ultimately, APOPO would like to use the drones to bring value across a wide range of different applications from the updating of cartography before demining operations take place and non-technical survey tasks through to operational planning for technical surveys and post clearance land documentation and comparisons.

APOPO Cambodia is most grateful for the support and generous contributions of its partners and donors!