Land Mines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) present an enduring global threat. The significant cost of removing mines and IEDs, both in financial terms and human casualties, is typically borne by Government and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), security and stabilisation forces and commercial organisations. Humanitarian and post-conflict demining uses traditional well proven techniques and procedures. The MIDAS programme planned to use satellite technologies as a key enabler for new services to make demining operations safer, more efficient, lower cost and more auditable.
The aim of MIDAS was to develop an integrated suite of mine clearance support tools to provide a comprehensive solution from enhanced operator training, planning of clearance campaigns and real-time monitoring of clearance in progress, through to post operation analysis and the provision of digital reports for quality assurance purposes. The key MIDAS systems are a mine clearance management system, training systems for both indoor and outdoor use and a trials site facility. These systems comprise new bespoke software, new hardware based on existing technologies and Cobham’s existing mine detection equipment.
GNSS satellites are used to accurately track mine detectors in real-time, display the tracked location data on maps overlayed with satellite imagery and then send back data from remote locations using satellite communications equipment.
The key users of the MIDAS systems and services are the organisations either undertaking mine clearance operations worldwide or training deminers.
The demining users wish to undertake demining safely and efficiently whilst generating a comprehensive audit trail so that they can prove that they have followed the stipulated procedures should there be any accidents. Demining is a painstakingly slow and expensive process which is heavily reliant upon large numbers of skilled operators with handheld detection systems meticulously clearing and safe marking suspected minefields by physically marking the ground, typically with flags, paint and boundary ropes. Supervisors of demining operations would like a means to remotely monitor their demining team and ensure that they are using equipment correctly and covering the ground effectively. The Supervisors would also like software tools to lower the burden of their accounting and reporting requirements.
Current training for handheld mine detectors is delivered by a combination of theoretical classroom teaching and exercises on bespoke outdoor training lanes in which representative dummy targets are buried. Whilst outdoor training lanes will remain an important element of this training, they are expensive to setup and maintain with regular reconfiguration requirements to update target types and positions. Outdoor training lanes also suffer from inconsistency of ground conditions and inclement weather conditions. Ground sign from buried threats can also limit the effectiveness of traditional training lanes, with unrealistic exercises often being used to detect buried land mines. Trainers wish to be able to undertake cost effective, qualitative and repeatable training at any location. They wish to be able to closely monitor how a trainee uses handheld detectors, generate metrics on their performance and have a means to show trainees what they are doing wrong.
The key top-level user needs derived for MIDAS are:
The MIDAS systems and services are summarised in the following diagram:
The MIDAS Clearance Management System (CMS) can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of mine clearance operations. The CMS can be used to provide real-time monitoring of mine clearance operations. Deminers will use detectors equipped with state-of-the-art GNSS-based tracking systems, which receive GNSS signals, and send centimetre-level accurate location data over a wireless link. The location data, representing the tracked path of the detectors and marked threats, is picked up by a receiver which is connected to a rugged PC running the Clearance Management Tool (CMT) software.
The MIDAS Training Systems teaches trainees how to use detectors, by searching for virtual threats in a synthetic virtual environment using a real detector which is tracked in 3D and modelled in real-time in the virtual environment. The trainer can virtually position threats within the training area, removing the requirement for dedicated training lanes with buried targets which are expensive to configure and setup. The system autonomously generates performance metrics on each trainee covering sweep, coverage and detection. It is available as an indoor version with VR headset or an outdoor version, the latter using precision GNSS and sensors to track the detector.
MIDAS has set up a Test Site Facility to support trials, located in the New Forest in the UK. The facility contains lanes with targets buried in a variety of soil types (top soil, sand, ballast, MOT type 1 crushed stone), a vehicle track and a mock minefield, and is suitable for testing handheld and vehicle mounted detectors. A sufficient number of targets are emplaced to make trials data statistically significant. This includes various types of AP and AT targets and metal debris, which will demonstrate a significant reduction in False Alarm Rate using Cobham’s Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) based detectors compared to standard Metal Detection technologies.
The two principal assets that the system will utilise are Global Navigation Sensor Systems (GNSS) data and Earth Observation (EO) imagery data from satellites and, where appropriate, further augmented by imagery from High-Altitude Platforms (HAPs).
Detection systems (handheld and vehicle mounted) have been configured with a precision GNSS receiver to track their positions and provide real time precise position data which can then be recorded and used in the CMT and training system software.
GNSS tracking of the detection systems is used as a means of determining ground coverage through recording the precise position of the systems and accounting for the detection swathe of the respective systems. The search coverage and threat position data is overlain onto high fidelity satellite EO imagery in GIS software to offer an integrating mapping and traceability capability.
Satellite communications could be used in conjunction with the MIDAS system when used in remote locations to relay project critical progress reports in addition to accessing EO data and maps.
The MIDAS development programme is now completed. Final demonstrations were undertaken at the GICHD Mine Action 2017 14th annual symposium in Croatia (commonly referred to as “CroMAC”). CroMAC was used to allow us to undertake our final system demonstrations in front of many potential customers. It hosts a significant number of key personnel from the humanitarian and the military market. Cobham and the team comprehensively advertised and presented MIDAS via a variety of methods and successfully demonstrated the CMS and OTS at a live outdoor event.
The team has proposed to undertake a second phase of development, to adapt the technology to further humanitarian and post conflict mine and IED clearance scenarios, largely focussed on autonomy.