British scientists, funded by Sir Bobby Charlton’s charity Find A Better Way, are developing a “life-saving” new camera system which is capable of detecting landmines hidden underground. Here’s everything you need to know about that.

Why is the landmine situation so critical?

Mines warning in Colombia
A sign warning of landmines in Colombia (Fernando Vergara/AP)

There are an estimated 110 million landmines buried across the world with the potential to kill and maim adults and children for decades to come.

However, landmine detection techniques have barely changed since the Second World War – relying primarily on metal detection.

Modern day landmines are usually made of plastic, making them “extremely difficult” to remove. One £2 landmine can cost between £120 and £600 to find and clear.

What are scientists developing to detect the landmines?

Mine warning sign
A soldiers search for mines after flooding in Bosnia (Sulejman Omerbasic/AP)

The team, from the University of Bath, is developing technology that can differentiate between images of plastic and metallic elements within a single device, at depths of up to 10cm (4in) underground.

Eventually, Dr Manuchehr Soleimani’s team aim to create an affordable, lightweight technology that can be integrated within a robot to identify different devices across a variety of locations.

“Currently, manual metal detectors sweep minefields in a slow and time-consuming process which cannot detect non-metallic landmines,” the associate professor said.

“We aim to develop an integrated technology to detect both metallic and non-metallic landmines and to improve the speed and reliability of this process.”

What does Sir Bobby have to do with this life-saving landmine research?

Sir Bobby Charlton
(Nigel French/PA)

None other than Sir Bobby Charlton! The footballing legend’s charity Find A Better Way (FABW) awarded £100,000 of funding to the team at the University of Bath.

Sir Bobby said: ”The UN estimates that it would take more than 1,100 years to clear the estimated 110 million landmines situated in 70 countries.

“As a charity we are determined to find a practicable technology solution that can bring an end to this humanitarian tragedy.”

Iranian soldiers search for mines
Iranian army personnel clear minefields left by the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s (Vahid Salemi/AP)

He continued: “I set up Find A Better Way to search for more effective technology to detect landmines and explosive remnants of war after witnessing first-hand the devastation these can cause to individuals and communities.

“Our partnership with the University of Bath will help us to make significant progress with our aim to deliver significant improvements in demining detection capability to ultimately negate the effects landmines and explosive remnants of war pose across the globe.”

And is progress promising?

Mine clearance at Cyprus buffer zone
A UN specialist removes mines in the buffer zone that divides the Greek and Turkish communities of Cyprus (Philippos Christou/AP)

Initial tests on the camera system, which will work on varied terrain, have been “positive” in uncovering hidden pieces of dielectric (materials which are poor conductors of electricity) and metallic samples.

Professor Gary Hawley, dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Design at the university, added: “It is exciting to see early positive results from this important, life-saving research which could really benefit people and communities around the world.”