Hybrid Drones and Shrunken Technology Identify Unexploded Ordinances from Air

Researchers from Binghamton University and Ukraine have developed a new technique using hybrid drones and shrunken technology to identify unexploded ordinances (UXO) from the air.

“There’s this kind of evolutionary moment when the two technologies are meeting for the first time — the miniaturization of sensors and the dependability of drones,” said lead study author Alex Nikulin. “The union of those two things changes the game.”

Historically, having people conduct surveys on-foot has been time-consuming and risky. Drone surveys have been used to remove the human element and reduce the risk, but due to battery life can only perform for short periods of time – typically 15 to 20 minutes.

The Ukrainian company UMT developed a hybrid drone called Cicada that can stay in the air for up to three hours. Cicada is a copter equipped with a combustion engine and generator. Due to this feature, the copter is able to stay aloft much longer as compared to traditional electric drones powered by accumulator batteries. It is able to carry up to 3 kg of equipment.

Using Cicada, UMT collaborated with Nikulin and the team to test how a drone-carried, micro-fabricated magnetometer could detect 3-meter-long missiles. The magnetometer is able to geolocate each UXO using GPS, allowing researchers to plot locations on a map. The combination of the long flight time coupled with keyed-in elevation enabled them to map the ordinances very quickly.

The team has been certified for IMAS – the International Mine Action Standards Certification. The scientists’ method is now certified for a wide area technical survey which confirms the absence or presence of a threat.

“Then you as the stakeholder, the government regulator, the emergency ministry, the humanitarian organization, can use that data to plan your work,” said Nikulin.