Harvard inventor hopes to manufacture land mine clearance device

Harvard resident Gary Christ said he has made about 15 trips since 2001 to Cambodia, a country that still contains millions of active land mines.

Through this work, Christ has met numerous victims of these antipersonnel devices, some of whom have lost arms, legs or their vision. One of the smallest types of mines, known as a “toe topper,” costs about $3 to make, Christ said.

To aid in the search and destruction of these leftover explosives, Christ is developing and looking to manufacture a prototype robot to detonate land mines with greater maneuverability than existing machines.

“If I can save one person from this, it’s worth it,” Christ said.

One of the most common machines to safely activate landmines is a hydraulic excavator, which Christ describes as a large backhoe with a rotary hammer on its end.

However, Christ said these bigger machines cannot negotiate between trees and other obstacles within a dense jungle setting.

Christ said he has spent 10 years working on a smaller and more mobile machine – which he refers to as a mine rover.

In February, Christ was granted a patent for the steering mechanism of the mine rover, which would be about the size of a golf cart.

“Typically, a demining device is heavy,” Christ’s permit reads. “To move that device to a desired area to carry out a demining function is difficult. Furthermore, such movement must be done carefully and efficiently. To that end, it is very desirable to have a device that can move such heavy loads a short distance.”

Mounted onto the front of Christ’s remote-controlled device are four hammers that would slam into the ground hard enough to trigger any antipersonnel mines. Christ said his machine is not designed to detonate the larger anti-tank explosives.

Before moving forward with the existing prototype, Christ said there were two other incarnations: one that was for proof of concept and one that experienced maneuverability issues.

“The biggest change from the other incarnations is that this can be mass-produced for less cost,” Christ said.

According to Christ’s permit, which contained background information about ridding areas of land mines, demining procedures can be one of two types: military or humanitarian.
Military land mine removal finds acceptable the elimination of about 90% of the mines in a minefield. Humanitarian demining, meanwhile, finds acceptable the elimination of at least 99% of the mines in a minefield, making the process more extensive, according to the permit.

In addition to his demining device, Christ said he also is working on a new fire suppression device he refers to as the “fire cannon.”

Christ said one of the advantages his invention has over the helicopter bucket currently used in aerial firefighting is pressurization, which allows water or retardants to be shot directly at a fire as opposed to being dumped across a fire.

“The simplest way to describe it is a flying fire truck,” Christ said.

The system also could allow prefilled canisters of water or retardant to be dropped off at fire zones. Christ said a fire cannon also could be sold for half the cost of helicopter buckets.

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