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Tomorrow Today

Minefield robot goes where humans fear to tread

Dervish
The Dervish rolls over a landmine and remains undamaged

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CNN's Ann Kellan looks at the robotic landmine exploder
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Professor Salter narrates a mine detonation demonstration
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May 6, 1999
Web posted at: 9:40 a.m. EDT (1340 GMT)

EDINBURGH, Scotland (CNN) -- A Scottish engineer's robotic invention has the potential to save lives and limbs from the millions of land mines buried throughout the world, including the Balkans. But the project could be doomed because of a lack of funding.

The tripod-like machine, called the Dervish, can roll through mine fields stepping on buried mines, causing them to detonate and surviving the blast.

Every day, about 25 people are killed or wounded by one of tens of millions of land mines buried throughout the world. Some wait decades to claim victims, and new ones are being laid in strife-torn areas such as the Balkans.

Some of the mines are packed with enough explosives to take out tanks and vehicles. So devising a machine that can take the punishment is no mean feat.

In operation, the Dervish inches forward, moving in circles to cover every foot of ground. Its open-frame construction, heavy steel wheels and V-shaped motor casing are designed to endure countless blasts.

In a recent demonstration, the robot's developers blew up a car with a pound of exposives -- the force of about 11 anti-personnel mines -- then subjected the Dervish to the same blast.

injured child
Anti-personnel mines are designed to maim victims   

The blast blew out the bottom of the car, but the Dervish suffered no damage.

However, the machine was unable to climb out of the resulting crater.

"I'm not sure this particular wheel will have enough torque to get out," says inventor Stephen Salter of the University of Edinburgh. "But the new design will."

Along with new wheels, the latest model of the Dervish is designed with a hydraulic motor. A computerized box links the robot to a remote-control navigation system.

But Salter says the project is out of money, because the system hasn't proven to be 100 percent effective.

Money is going instead to develop sophisticated land mine sensors, which could take years to perfect.

Meanwhile, current methods require that people go into fields with mine detectors. Salter says the Dervish would be less expensive, less dangerous and can hit the ground rolling.

Correspondent Ann Kellan contributed to this report.


RELATED STORIES:
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Robots built by Western students compete for speed, dexterity
February 26, 1999
Land mine treaty to go into effect in December
July 3, 1998
121 nations sign historic land mine treaty
December 4, 1997
Anti-land mine activists win Nobel Peace Prize
October 10, 1997

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