Sensing Danger ARA Develops Leading Edge
There are an estimated 45-50 million landmines currently that must be cleared from at least 50 million acres of land in more than 80 countries around the world. These landmines kill or maim thousands of people each year, and prevent access to drinking water and agricultural land for many more. Even with available technologies, the work to clear the mines remains dangerous and time consuming. Applied Research Associates, Inc. (ARA) is taking a leading role in developing new technology that will help detect and clear landmines, save lives, and return land to safe use.
ARA is currently testing a new demining system called the Nemesis, a remotely operated rubber-tracked, skid-steer loader with onboard sensors and equipment designed to detect, discriminate, and mark anti-tank landmines. ARA developed Nemesis in conjunction with the U.S. Army's RDECOM CERDEC Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate (NVESD) in Fort Belvoir, VA, and recently earned high marks during an initial operational test in Cambodia.
The evaluations took place at the Cambodian Mine Action Center's (CMAC) Kampong Chhnang Training Center, where ARA engineers Joe Keranen and Joe Eastman and NVESD representatives subjected the Nemesis to many of the challenges deminers face in detecting landmines in the field, such as distinguishing mines from clutter, and detecting mines that are deeply buried.
"For the humanitarian demining mission, the key is to achieve a very high probability of detection, and so that was our goal and we met it," said Joe Keranen. Another aspect of the tests was proving the Nemesis could operate in Cambodia environmental conditions. Daytime temperatures at the test center averaged over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, with high humidity. "Our testing took place at the beginning of the monsoon season, and it downpoured at about 3 o'clock every day," said Joe Keranen. "The sensors were not affected by the conditions and the system actually performed very reliably. We collected data every day, and there was very little down time."
The Nemesis detection system includes an electromagnetic induction metal detector array combined with a ground penetrating synthetic aperture radar array that is capable of detecting low-metal anti-tank landmines and some anti-personnel landmines. The Nemesis Modular Robotic Control System provides independent command and control of the demining payloads, such as ordnance clearing or area preparation tools.
"Shipping the Nemesis to Kampong Chhnang was also a logistics test," said Joe Eastman. "The Nemesis is a large, complex machine, and we needed to ensure that it would be able to ship overseas and be able to operate there, which is a lot different than shipping and operating it within the U.S. We proved that we could go overseas, set the Nemesis up in less than a day, and be off and running. The system continued to work well for the several weeks that we were there. While at Kampong Chhnang, the team was able to speak to the Cambodian de-miners who would use the system and get their feedback. They are currently adding enhancements based on these comments to the next iteration of the platform, which, when produced, will be something a customer can use with minimal training.
"We are also looking at developing another platform for unexploded ordnance (UXO) detection to address the problem of overseas UXO where fragments, shells, or bombs have been left over from previous conflicts, and of environmental cleanup here in the U.S. with regard to artillery ranges," said Joe Keranen. "But our emphasis now is developing the Nemesis for clearing areas for humanitarian, rather than military, reasons. Lives and limbs are being lost, and the cleanup effort is huge. The Nemesis can help remove mines and allow citizens to return to their homes and activities safely. If the government and the regular armed forces also see that it is a reliable way to detect mines, then it would be great to move it into countermine operations as well."