Frugal innovations for mine removal

Blastproof is a R&D project by Chris Natt focusing on scalable solutions for the removal of landmines (and other explosive remnants of war). The project was developed during his final year of the Innovation Design Engineering Masters Program at the Royal College of Art in 2013.

The aim of the study is to identify and develop innovations that can prevent injury to local teams engaged in manual mine clearance. Development has focused on tools that can promote safe working practices in the field including reactive training mines and ergonomic demining handtools.

I would like to thank : Andy Smith for sharing his personal experiences and vast knowledge of mine action programs, Aran Dasan for supporting the techical development and manufacture of custom-made circuitry and the James Dyson Foundation for providing a grant to support the project.

Manual Mine Clearance: Introduction

Clearance of landmines is the 9th Millennium Development Goal of Laos and Cambodia. The hazards remain active after wars have ended and remain one of the most enduring barriers to development in post-war territories worldwide. These hidden life-threatening obstacles (categorised as ‘access denial weapons’) stand between civilians and the ability to fulfil their basic needs, condemning some of the poorest communities of the world to poverty. Manual mine clearance by ‘deminers’ (typically uneducated labourers employed and trained by NGOs) remains the most common method of mine clearance.

While manual mine clearance is a specialist activity, local staff can be trained in a matter of weeks. The tools and procedures used vary from one NGO to another and change to reflect the terrain and specific threat they face. (antipersonnel mines, cluster munitions)

The work is monotonous and often carried out in challenging environmental conditions, The deminer is required to maintain a high level of concentration when scanning the ground with an electronic detector and when investigating positive readings with probes and trowels to confirm if a hazard exists. The accidental detonation of mines is often attributed to human error and injuries sustained can always be prevented if properly specified tools and safe working practices have been adhered to.

Manual Mine Clearance: Injuries

This image illustrates a typical hand injury caused when a deminer detonated a landmine during the attempted clearance of land. The victim was exposing ground using short handled improvised tools to excavate around an area where a suspected hazard had been detected.


“When a deminer detonates a mine as he exposes it, the most frequent disabling injury is to his hands. Deminers are often poorly educated labourers. When they lose a hand they may lose any opportunity to earn a living. In a post-conflict economy, that can be a death sentence.” – Andy Smith – Specialist in Humanitarian Mine Action