A team from the Institute of Systems and Robotics at Portugal's University of Coimbra is developing a minesweeping robot to assist in the monumental task of clearing the millions of active land mines around the globe. Currently putting it through a series of field testings, the team is working to optimize the robot to automate the manual, and exceedingly dangerous humanitarian, de-mining effort.

The beginnings of the project date back to 2012 when, as part of the Partnerbot Grant Program which supports advancement in robotics research, Canadian-based Clearpath Robotics provided the institute with a mobile robot base known as the Husky Unmanned Ground Vehicle.

After receiving the robot base, the research team fitted it with navigation and localization sensors, a ground penetration radar and a custom robotic arm with an attached metal detector. These were installed to enable the robot to perform three key tasks: perceive terrain characteristics, navigate across the terrain and to detect and localize land mines.

The first round of field tests in 2013 had to be cut short as a result of complications with the custom robotic arm. The team is currently making adjustments to the machine with a view of conducting further tests in mid-2014.

"Minesweeping is an extremely dangerous and time-intensive process," said Lino Marques, Senior Lecturer at the University of Coimbra and academic liaison for the project. "Robots do not get tired; they can be extremely thorough performing their jobs, and their cost is infinitely smaller than that of a human life. For these reasons, robots are a perfect solution for the minesweeping problem."

If the team's vision is fulfilled, Coimbra's machine will add to the efforts of other de-mining robots already at work, such as the MineWolf and the DIGGER DTR D-3. With an estimated 110 million land mines still lodged in the ground worldwide according to UNICEF, claiming 800 lives each month, any move to help minimize their damage would be a welcome one.