Unexploded ordnance and landmines planted in what were once battlefields are a serious global problem. About 2000 people every month are involved in accidents due to explosion of mines, a victim every twenty minutes, many of them are children. NATO experts extimate that demining the areas affected by conflicts around the world could take up to 100 years.
Many have been the efforts to develop new technologies to detect these dangers, such as the use of terahertz waves and inkjet-printable sensors. But, instead of relying on the development of new technologies, some students of the Military University of Technology of Warsaw tried to use an existing one in a new way, developing an application called “Saper” to detect explosives with smartphones.
“Saper” is the Polish word for “minesweeper” and, at the same time, an acronym for “Amplified Perception Sensor For Explosives Recognition”. The application is based on the magnetometer, usually used for the compass-like functionality of your mobile, to detect disturbances in the magnetic field near an explosive material, allowing to detect forty different types of such materials, from a distance of 30 cm (11 , 8 inches).
Before the suspected area can be inspected the application, which was successfully tested on the field, needs a little time to calibrate the environment. Once done, all you have to do is shake the phone in the air as if you were painting a grid of up to 30 cm by 30 cm and not more than 30 cm away from the source of potential threat (the distance can be increased with the addition of a staff acting like an arm).
The application connects to a cloud-based server and compares the recorded signals of magnetic disturbance with other signals in the database. If a threat is detected, the application returns a warning message and identifies the probability of there beig some kind of explosive material in the sampled area. The GPS locator, then, identifies the site and immediately notify the authorities. The message of threat can also be automatically shared on social networks.
“We do not intend for SAPER to replace mine detection devices, but only to provide additional help when none are available ,” said Mariusz Chmielewski, the mentor of Polish students’ team.
Participant in the Microsoft Imagine Cup Competition, the application was developed exclusively for Windows Phone operating system but will soon be made available on other platforms. Other planned developments include a wireless external magnetometer which will increase the detection distance up to one meter (3.28 feet).
The group also plans to explore the possibility of using the magnetometer to monitor other types of disturbances of the magnetic field. Potential uses include the detection of cables inside a wall and detection of foreign bodies in the human body. In this way, the device will join other tools, already in use and certainly more professional, which allow to see through walls, thanks to a technology that uses radio waves of the UWB (ultra wide band) radar system.