After the Flood: microdrone is finding land mines

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Bosnia and Herzegovina/Croatia, 26 August 2014 – Airborne support in the search for survivors and land mines: in the wake of a natural disaster in Serbia/Bosnia and Herzegovina, rescue teams have been using German-made drones. This past May, flooding and landslides left many people homeless, blocked access to large areas, and brought wartime landmines to the surface. The potentially life-threatening hazards to which the populace is exposed continued long after the storms abated. The EU’s ICARUS and TIRAMISU development projects are providing support for the search for survivors and land mines. And now the UN, too, is again using airborne support. 

md4-1000 Quadrocopters developed by Germany-based microdrones GmbH are being used by the Belgian Royal Military Academy (RMA) in the disaster area. “We’ve conducted around 20 flights over a two week period, either manually or using automatic waypoints,” notes Haris Balta. RMA development engineers carried out the mission on-site. “We’ve provided the other rescue teams with damage reports, detailed maps and pictures of the disaster region – the goal being to locate the countless landmines left over from the civil war.”

New rescue methods save lives 
The city of Orasje in northeast Bosnia was particularly hard hit by the flooding. Thousands of people lost their homes and many were cut off from the outside world. Initial attempts to pump water out of the area proved fruitless, and the local situation barely improved at all. A breach in a levee that was making pumping operations impossible was not discovered until a drone deployed by the Belgian military’s Belgian First Aid and Support Team (B-FAST) detected it.

Landslides in and around the city of Maglaj shifted whole minefields, making it impossible for people to move around safely. And deploying rescue teams to this zone would have been too risky. It was days before people in this area received the aid they needed in order to survive. Detailed aerial 3D photographs were then taken, which helped to measure how far the minefields had shifted. Mines were found up to 23 kilometers away from their original location. In this case, airborne support provided invaluable assistance for deployment in the disaster zone. “A two-hour drone sortie saved the rescue team three days,” the on-site B-FAST team noted.

Severe challenges owing to difficult terrain 
The inaccessible terrain in the flooded areas posed a problem for the rescue teams, and was also a particular challenge for the drones. It was essential that they be able to fly for lengthy periods and operate in narrow areas. The md4-1000 Quadrocopters used in this case are easy to maneuver or can even fly over waypoints without a pilot, for up to 88 minutes at a stretch. These aircraft are part of two different EU projects. Under the ICARUS project, tools were developed that are intended to help rescue teams locate survivors – including through the use of drones, as well as unmanned ground and amphibious vehicles. The solutions developed by the TIRAMISU project, on the other hand, are designed specifically for landmine searches. The Quadrocopters proved particularly useful for both projects, under challenging conditions.

The UN is again using drones following their successful deployment
Having evaluated the successful deployment of German drones under the ICARUS and TIRAMISU projects, the UN is now also using md4-1000 drones. In Bosnia and Croatia, detailed aerial photographs are again providing landmine search teams with invaluable support. According to Haris Balta, “So many local officials and end-users have acknowledged the helpfulness of the missions to date (which were carried out right after the flooding) that they have asked us to support the UN’s new missions as well.” Thanks to the drones, considerably more precise and rapid assistance can be provided to disaster victims, particularly in difficult to access areas or areas that are hazardous owing to the presence of landmines.