Landmines kill 4,000 civilians a year and maim many thousands more, half of them children, and unless better methods of mine detection are developed, the carnage could go on for another century or more.
A number of charities are doing heroic work around the world to clear these deadly remnants of past wars, but the work is painfully slow. The Landmine Relief Fund estimates that at the current pace it will take another 100 years to clear the remaining landmines from Cambodia alone.
That’s because the principal method of mine detection — sweeps with hand-held metal detectors — results in 100 false positives for every actual mine detected. Because a standard metal detector can’t tell the difference between a landmine and a shell casing or piece of shrapnel, each detection of buried metal has to be painstakingly approached as if it were a live mine.
PETALS is a technology developed by Red Lotus that allows a sweeper to determine the shape and size of buried object, making it much easier to tell actual mines from scrap metal. Invented by Sri Lankan-born technologist Lahiru Jayatilaka, PETALS needs a slug of funding to create a prototype for field testing. The funded project will clear a field in Cambodia that will become a schoolyard for a 100-family village that has been hemmed in by minefields for decades.