Development of a British mine clearance machine said to be quicker and cheaper than current methods has slowed to a crawl due to lack of funds.
The Dervish has been refused aid by the Department for International Development and the European Commission, placing a question mark over its future.
The lightweight, three-wheeled Dervish is being developed by a team led by Stephen Salter, professor of engineering design at Edinburgh University’s department of mechanical engineering.
Following a predetermined path mapped by computer, it traverses a minefield in overlapping circles at walking pace, and is designed to set mines off without itself suffering damage.
But its use of mechanical rather than sensor-based technology makes the Dervish ineligible for funding from an EU research programme into mine clearance. Its development has relied on individual donations from organisations that include the Royal Academy of Engineering. ‘The trouble with sensors is that, at the moment, they only work for metal. It is possible to make a very effective mine with no metal in it,’ said Salter. He claimed the Dervish could clear minefields for ‘a few cents per square metre instead of the current cost of a few dollars’.
However, a spokesman for the government’s Mines Advisory Group said it believed the Dervish would prove impractical due to obstacles in the field.