UMR researchers hope to wash away land mines

Researchers at the University of Missouri-Rolla hope to wash away the problem of land mines with technology that harnesses and focuses the power of water.

‘When water hits different surfaces it makes a different noise,’ said Dr. David Summers, Curators’ Professor of mining engineering and director of UMR’s Rock Mechanics and Explosives Research Centre. Summers is leading UMR’s efforts to use waterjets to find land mines.

The use of waterjets will not only make it easier to find land mines, but also will make it possible to destroy them without causing an explosion, Summers said. Not a lot of progress has been made in land mine detection since World War II, he added.

UMR’s waterjet approach to mine detection includes spraying a stream of water on the ground, then listening to the sound it makes. From this reading, researchers can detect an abnormality in the ground and possibly uncover a land mine. Dr. Daryl Beetner, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at UMR, heads up this area of the research. He said this method is faster than the traditional method of using a metal rod to probe the ground every two inches.

Next, instead of digging the mine up by hand and endangering the excavator, a remotely controlled tool fitted with a waterjet would do the job. This device, called a Confined Sluicing End Effector, involves a hollow tube on the tool with waterjets that spin around it, while a second system creates a vacuum in the tube. Dr. Greg Galecki, research assistant professor of rock mechanics, who is in charge of this portion of the program at UMR, said this device will remove all the soil covering half of the mine in about 10 seconds.

Normally, after a land mine is unearthed, it is blown up, but a waterjet can destroy the mine without making it explode. ‘A waterjet is used to cut the mine horizontally in two,’ said Summers. ‘This cuts right through everything, including the fuse, without setting it off.’ This method effectively destroys the mine without endangering the person directly working with it or others in the area, said Summers.

The aim of the program is to develop a system that will cost under $10,000.

Dealing with dense terrain is said to be a challenge for UMR researchers. According to Summers, land irregularities make it more difficult to detect mines. For example, if a shrub has grown up over a small section of land, the land underneath the shrub may contain a land mine, but the waterjet (or any other detection device) may miss it because it cannot spray directly on the surface. Summers and other UMR researchers are currently working on ways to solve this problem.