Defusing the hidden landmine problem

News Apr 06, 2016 by James Jackson Waterloo Chronicle

When Richard Yim was a young boy growing up in Cambodia, his parents always told him never to stray from the paved roads.

The countryside is littered with landmines, and one wrong step can mean the loss of a limb — or worse.

“People step on landmines walking to the hospitals. Or walking home from work,” said Yim, who moved to Canada with his family in 2007 when he was 13 years old.

“Even my uncle and aunt, they’re both doctors, and in the early ’90s they said every day they had to amputate legs. Hundreds and hundreds of legs.”

His fathers second cousin died while clearing a field one day, and it is this longtime threat that motivated Yim to use his skills in mechanical engineering to create a safer world by developing a robot capable of defusing landmines.

With a group of four other mechanical engineering students from the University of Waterloo, Yim formed the Landmine Boys, and just last week they collected a total of $35,000 in prize money to develop a second prototype.

They were one of six winners of the Norman Esch Capstone Design prize of $10,000 last Wednesday, and the next day they won $25,00 at the Velocity Fund pitch competition.

“In this community it’s a huge achievement, and really validates this project,” said Ming Hu, another member of the Landmine Boys, of the prize money.

Traditionally, landmines are disposed of by detonating them after they’ve been found — either right at the location, or after moving them to a new site. It’s a slow process, and the Landmine Boys hope their robot will make the process quicker and cheaper.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre estimates there may be as many as six million unexploded mines and other ordnance in that country. They are the result of years of civil war clashes during the 1970s and 1980s and were placed across the country. An estimated 40,000 amputees live in Cambodia among a population of slightly more than 15 million people, one of the highest rates in the world. It could take decades for all those mines to be properly disposed of.

Landmines have two main components, Yim said, the detonator and the TNT explosive packed inside. Together they form a lethal duo, but apart they’re both relatively safe.

“If you separate the detonator from the TNT, both components can be safely handled,” he said.

When he visited Cambodia last April, Yim had an epiphany. He heard of a now-outlawed method of mine disposal that required technicians to disarm the mine manually.

Yim decided he could invent a robot that could do the same thing without putting humans at risk. His device stabilizes the TNT and the detonator, drills inside and separates the two.

He returned to Cambodia in December with a prototype and managed to successfully disarm a landmine without triggering the detonator. That mine had already had the TNT removed, but it was an important first step in testing the robot.

The team plans to take the $35,000 in prize money to develop a robot capable of disarming a live landmine.

“That will be our goal before the end of the year,” Yim said.

The Landmine Boys have received encouragement and mentorship through the GreenHouse at St. Paul’s University College at UW. Director Tania Del Matto said Yim’s passion for landmines has played a big role in their success.

“I saw this light and energy come from him,” Del Matto said of the first time she met Yim last April. He originally pitched an idea for fitness equipment but admitted it wasn’t what he was really passionate about.

They’re currently packaging together a 15-minute documentary detailing Yim’s trip to Cambodia to test the robot and it should be ready for release in about a month, Del Matto said. He’s also accepted a work fellowship through GreenHouse to continue development on the robot this summer.

“Part of what we do here at GreenHouse is we’re very purpose-driven,” said Del Matto. “What we focus on first and foremost is the question of ‘what’s the pressing environmental or social problem?’ and then we help them unpack that.”

The Landmine Boys have also been collaborating with Mines Action Canada and the Canadian Landmine Foundation, which was founded in 1999 with help from former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy — who is now chancellor of St. Paul’s College.

Those connections are key, said Yim.

“It’s very hard to go into a meeting as a 22-year-old and say ‘hey we have a solution to help eradicate landmines,’” he said. “Now, they can vouch for us and say we’re real and legitimate. (Axworthy) said this could be a breakthrough technology.”

Defusing the hidden landmine problem

Waterloo’s Landmine Boys changing the way we deal with forgotten bombs

News Apr 06, 2016 by James Jackson Waterloo Chronicle

When Richard Yim was a young boy growing up in Cambodia, his parents always told him never to stray from the paved roads.

The countryside is littered with landmines, and one wrong step can mean the loss of a limb — or worse.

“People step on landmines walking to the hospitals. Or walking home from work,” said Yim, who moved to Canada with his family in 2007 when he was 13 years old.

“Even my uncle and aunt, they’re both doctors, and in the early ’90s they said every day they had to amputate legs. Hundreds and hundreds of legs.”

His fathers second cousin died while clearing a field one day, and it is this longtime threat that motivated Yim to use his skills in mechanical engineering to create a safer world by developing a robot capable of defusing landmines.

With a group of four other mechanical engineering students from the University of Waterloo, Yim formed the Landmine Boys, and just last week they collected a total of $35,000 in prize money to develop a second prototype.

They were one of six winners of the Norman Esch Capstone Design prize of $10,000 last Wednesday, and the next day they won $25,00 at the Velocity Fund pitch competition.

“In this community it’s a huge achievement, and really validates this project,” said Ming Hu, another member of the Landmine Boys, of the prize money.

Traditionally, landmines are disposed of by detonating them after they’ve been found — either right at the location, or after moving them to a new site. It’s a slow process, and the Landmine Boys hope their robot will make the process quicker and cheaper.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre estimates there may be as many as six million unexploded mines and other ordnance in that country. They are the result of years of civil war clashes during the 1970s and 1980s and were placed across the country. An estimated 40,000 amputees live in Cambodia among a population of slightly more than 15 million people, one of the highest rates in the world. It could take decades for all those mines to be properly disposed of.

Landmines have two main components, Yim said, the detonator and the TNT explosive packed inside. Together they form a lethal duo, but apart they’re both relatively safe.

“If you separate the detonator from the TNT, both components can be safely handled,” he said.

When he visited Cambodia last April, Yim had an epiphany. He heard of a now-outlawed method of mine disposal that required technicians to disarm the mine manually.

Yim decided he could invent a robot that could do the same thing without putting humans at risk. His device stabilizes the TNT and the detonator, drills inside and separates the two.

He returned to Cambodia in December with a prototype and managed to successfully disarm a landmine without triggering the detonator. That mine had already had the TNT removed, but it was an important first step in testing the robot.

The team plans to take the $35,000 in prize money to develop a robot capable of disarming a live landmine.

“That will be our goal before the end of the year,” Yim said.

The Landmine Boys have received encouragement and mentorship through the GreenHouse at St. Paul’s University College at UW. Director Tania Del Matto said Yim’s passion for landmines has played a big role in their success.

“I saw this light and energy come from him,” Del Matto said of the first time she met Yim last April. He originally pitched an idea for fitness equipment but admitted it wasn’t what he was really passionate about.

They’re currently packaging together a 15-minute documentary detailing Yim’s trip to Cambodia to test the robot and it should be ready for release in about a month, Del Matto said. He’s also accepted a work fellowship through GreenHouse to continue development on the robot this summer.

“Part of what we do here at GreenHouse is we’re very purpose-driven,” said Del Matto. “What we focus on first and foremost is the question of ‘what’s the pressing environmental or social problem?’ and then we help them unpack that.”

The Landmine Boys have also been collaborating with Mines Action Canada and the Canadian Landmine Foundation, which was founded in 1999 with help from former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy — who is now chancellor of St. Paul’s College.

Those connections are key, said Yim.

“It’s very hard to go into a meeting as a 22-year-old and say ‘hey we have a solution to help eradicate landmines,’” he said. “Now, they can vouch for us and say we’re real and legitimate. (Axworthy) said this could be a breakthrough technology.”

Defusing the hidden landmine problem

Waterloo’s Landmine Boys changing the way we deal with forgotten bombs

News Apr 06, 2016 by James Jackson Waterloo Chronicle

When Richard Yim was a young boy growing up in Cambodia, his parents always told him never to stray from the paved roads.

The countryside is littered with landmines, and one wrong step can mean the loss of a limb — or worse.

“People step on landmines walking to the hospitals. Or walking home from work,” said Yim, who moved to Canada with his family in 2007 when he was 13 years old.

“Even my uncle and aunt, they’re both doctors, and in the early ’90s they said every day they had to amputate legs. Hundreds and hundreds of legs.”

His fathers second cousin died while clearing a field one day, and it is this longtime threat that motivated Yim to use his skills in mechanical engineering to create a safer world by developing a robot capable of defusing landmines.

With a group of four other mechanical engineering students from the University of Waterloo, Yim formed the Landmine Boys, and just last week they collected a total of $35,000 in prize money to develop a second prototype.

They were one of six winners of the Norman Esch Capstone Design prize of $10,000 last Wednesday, and the next day they won $25,00 at the Velocity Fund pitch competition.

“In this community it’s a huge achievement, and really validates this project,” said Ming Hu, another member of the Landmine Boys, of the prize money.

Traditionally, landmines are disposed of by detonating them after they’ve been found — either right at the location, or after moving them to a new site. It’s a slow process, and the Landmine Boys hope their robot will make the process quicker and cheaper.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre estimates there may be as many as six million unexploded mines and other ordnance in that country. They are the result of years of civil war clashes during the 1970s and 1980s and were placed across the country. An estimated 40,000 amputees live in Cambodia among a population of slightly more than 15 million people, one of the highest rates in the world. It could take decades for all those mines to be properly disposed of.

Landmines have two main components, Yim said, the detonator and the TNT explosive packed inside. Together they form a lethal duo, but apart they’re both relatively safe.

“If you separate the detonator from the TNT, both components can be safely handled,” he said.

When he visited Cambodia last April, Yim had an epiphany. He heard of a now-outlawed method of mine disposal that required technicians to disarm the mine manually.

Yim decided he could invent a robot that could do the same thing without putting humans at risk. His device stabilizes the TNT and the detonator, drills inside and separates the two.

He returned to Cambodia in December with a prototype and managed to successfully disarm a landmine without triggering the detonator. That mine had already had the TNT removed, but it was an important first step in testing the robot.

The team plans to take the $35,000 in prize money to develop a robot capable of disarming a live landmine.

“That will be our goal before the end of the year,” Yim said.

The Landmine Boys have received encouragement and mentorship through the GreenHouse at St. Paul’s University College at UW. Director Tania Del Matto said Yim’s passion for landmines has played a big role in their success.

“I saw this light and energy come from him,” Del Matto said of the first time she met Yim last April. He originally pitched an idea for fitness equipment but admitted it wasn’t what he was really passionate about.

They’re currently packaging together a 15-minute documentary detailing Yim’s trip to Cambodia to test the robot and it should be ready for release in about a month, Del Matto said. He’s also accepted a work fellowship through GreenHouse to continue development on the robot this summer.

“Part of what we do here at GreenHouse is we’re very purpose-driven,” said Del Matto. “What we focus on first and foremost is the question of ‘what’s the pressing environmental or social problem?’ and then we help them unpack that.”

The Landmine Boys have also been collaborating with Mines Action Canada and the Canadian Landmine Foundation, which was founded in 1999 with help from former Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lloyd Axworthy — who is now chancellor of St. Paul’s College.

Those connections are key, said Yim.

“It’s very hard to go into a meeting as a 22-year-old and say ‘hey we have a solution to help eradicate landmines,’” he said. “Now, they can vouch for us and say we’re real and legitimate. (Axworthy) said this could be a breakthrough technology.”