Boffins invent landmine-proof robo-shoe

Boffins invent landmine-proof robo-shoe

Device promises to save thousands of lives every year

Scientists have developed a robotic shoe that will allow people to walk through minefields unharmed. Landmine clearance agencies are showing interest in the device, the inventors say.

Landmines kill or wound tens of thousands every year, the majority of them non-combatants, according to mine research organisations.

"We presented and exhibited a fully functional prototype at the Asian Defence Technology 2006 Exhibition in February with good responses," the shoe's co-inventor, Associate Professor Konstantin Fuss of Singapore's Nanyang Technological University, said.

"Several companies were interested in the shoe, including a mine clearing agency in Australia, and the Homeland Security department in The Netherlands."

People wearing the robotic shoe would be able to step directly onto an anti-personnel mine, an action which would normally result in the loss of a limb or worse.

The six-legged shoes protect the wearer by lifting up a leg if it is over a mine so that the device is not triggered. The other five legs continue to support the wearer's weight.

Each of the shoe's six legs has a metal detector in its base. The detectors trigger solenoids which unlock the leg as soon as it is over a mine, allowing it to lift up freely when it touches the ground and put no pressure on the mine.

The leg is connected to the shoe with a hinge which locks again as soon as it is clear of the mine.

"The target groups for the shoe are mainly mine clearers involved in humanitarian clearance, military personnel in charge of peace-keeping initiatives and special command operations," the inventors said.

Testing and discussions with potential users of the mine shoe are continuing, according to Professor Fuss.

"We have been concentrating more on field tests, movement velocity and publication of design and results recently," he said. "We are intending to submit the description of the mine shoe and the testing results to the Journal of Mine Action this week."

The inventors filed a US patent application for the device last year.

Although the idea of a shoe designed to walk among unexploded mines might seem surprising at first, a variety of mine shoe already exists.

They are designed for mine-clearance experts or medical rescue personnel who need to work in or near uncleared minefields.

Although these cannot do anything to stop mines detonating, they do protect the feet and lower leg, reducing the risk of workers being permanently maimed by smaller anti-personnel mines.

Most anti-personnel mines are deliberately designed with small amounts of explosive that disable rather than kill by blowing off part of the victim's foot, for example.

This is because combatants must then devote considerable time and resources to evacuating and treating seriously wounded soldiers.

However, because minefields can remain dangerous for decades after conflicts cease, the victims are often innocent civilians. Landmine statistics show that 10,000 to 20,000 people are people killed or wounded by landmines every year.