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Infrared imaging makes landmine detection more safe, faster

Professor Zouheir Fawaz 

Professor Zouheir Fawaz looks through an unmanned aerial device a group of Ryerson students, under his supervision, designed for an international engineering competition in Germany last year. A landmine detector, such as an infrared camera, can be mounted on this device.

Engineers at Ryerson University and the American University of Beirut in Lebanon have developed a way to use infrared imaging to locate landmines more safely and quickly.

Zouheir Fawaz, associate dean and professor of the Department of Aerospace Engineering, says most anti-personnel devices, usually buried beneath a few inches of soil, are detected by literally prodding the ground with a metal rod.

"It's manual, dangerous and slow to find landmines this way," says Fawaz who is co-author of a research study published in the May issue of the journal Numerical Heat Transfer Part B-Fundamentals. He says these devices, some of which have been buried in the ground since World War II, are very sensitive and can be activated quite easily. There are an estimated 110 million landmines buried beneath the earth's surface, mostly in war-torn countries such as Cambodia, Afghanistan and Lebanon.

Fawaz and lead author Fadl Moukalled, along with co-authors Nesreen Ghaddar and Yamen Saleh of the American University of Beirut, researched how a specially designed infrared camera can be used to detect landmines by picking up their "thermal signature".

Objects absorb heat and cool down at different rates, explains Fawaz, so an infrared camera would be able to detect the differences in temperatures between two objects buried in the ground and display the heat variations onto a screen. They tested the device on defunct landmines in one of the labs in the Beirut university. The diffused devices were 10 centimetres in diameter and 5 centimetres thick, about half the size of a Frisbee. The researchers varied the depth of each device, which was buried in a container of soil and the moisture content of the dirt. The researchers then used formulas and equations to determine if the object detected by the camera was indeed a landmine.

The researchers found that the deeper the landmine was buried, the more difficult it was to detect with the infrared camera. If the detonation device is covered with less than 2 centimetres, as in the case of many anti-personnel landmines, says Fawaz, an infrared beam can easily pick up its thermal signature.

thermal signature of two simulated landmines

An image taken by an infrared camera which shows the thermal signatures of two simulated landmines buried in soil(shown by yellow dots).

Over the past three years, Fawaz and his co-authors in Lebanon have been dividing their time between their own areas of research and developing technology to build a safer landmine detection device.

"For me personally, it's a lifetime project," says Fawaz, whose main area of research is aerospace engineering at Ryerson University. "I have children and I've seen children maimed by landmines. I've seen them basically lose their limbs, livelihoods, their parents."

Last year, the team won an international engineering competition in Germany for their design of a remote-controlled aerial vehicle on which a landmine detection device can be mounted. They also used the $18,000 (US) prize money as seed funds to build a prototype of the vehicle. Fawaz says he would like to ultimately provide non-profit organizations with a safer tool to use.


Zouheir Fawaz  Suelan Toye
Department of Aerospace Engineering   Public Affairs
Office: 416-979-5000 x 4502 Office: 416-979-5000 x 7161

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