Three enterprising brothers knocked on the door of Kortrijk’s open maker space BUDA::lab late last year with the idea of developing demining robots for Ukraine. Together with the team of volunteers, they worked intensively for almost a year on hardware and electronics development. A first prototype has since left for Kyiv for further software development. The aim is to produce the machine on a large scale at a factory in Ukraine and get to work as soon as possible to defuse the many anti-personnel mines currently lying around.
Even when hostilities are over, wars still cause casualties. Years after the end of armed conflicts, the number of deaths and injuries caused by landmines and other explosive remnants of war is still very high. It is estimated that the Russian army dropped more than one million anti-personnel mines in Ukraine in recent months. These munitions are placed under, on, or near the ground and are designed to explode as soon as a person walks over them.
One in eight victims of these anti-personnel mines is a child. After the war, many cities and towns in Ukraine will need demining equipment to make roads, paths, sports grounds, … make safe again. According to World Bank estimates, the cost of demining in Ukraine will be around €35 billion.
Brothers realize idea thanks to BUDA::lab
Kris Vancraen, together with his two enterprising brothers, who own a company in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, knocked on the door of Kortrijk-based BUDA::lab late last year with the idea of developing cheaper demining robots for Ukraine.
BUDA::lab is a public workshop with a wide range of analog and digital machines that allow creatives, designers, makers, children, students, and schools to get creative. They can turn their ideas into projects in BUDA::lab, attend workshops to learn new skills, and meet the community of makers from different sectors and disciplines.
Together with a team of about a dozen volunteers, ranging from welders to programmers, the brothers worked intensively for almost a year on a prototype demining robot’s hardware and electronics development.
Cheaper version of the extremely expensive demining robot
In this exciting collaboration, expertise from a lot of people came together, ensuring a very impactful result. Demining robots currently cost handsomely, think more than €1 million each. So for Ukraine, dismantling all these mines is a very expensive operation. Kris and his brothers therefore wanted to investigate whether a cheaper version could be developed that would be just as effective. And that’s where the expertise of BUDA::lab came into the picture. The version currently being developed could be sold for 40,000 euros. A city, municipality, or province could therefore buy this robot in larger numbers, or develop it itself via open-source systems.
Kortrijk schools help
With hardware and electronics development now complete, one of the models has already left for Kyiv for further software development. This will be done in cooperation with the brothers’ companies in Ukraine. Still to be added to the design will be cameras, a demining radar with artificial intelligence, and the ability to automatically scan predefined surfaces.
Meanwhile, two schools in Kortrijk, BuSO De Hoge Kouter and PTI Kortrijk, showed their willingness to cooperate in making the robots. This ranges from welding to wiring and finishing.
“Such a project demonstrates in a maximum way the value of a maker space. Many people are also active in BUDA::lab, each with expertise. When this knowledge is pooled and shared, as in this project, you arrive at a very impactful result that all parties are rightly very proud of.”
– Stan Dewaele, coordinator BUDA::lab
” Experimenting, creating, innovating…. what happens in BUDA::lab is what Kortrijk stands for. We are therefore very proud that we helped realize the idea of the three Vancraen brothers. Hopefully, in this way, we, as a small Belgian city, are doing our bit to make the huge Ukraine a mine-free and safe country again. Big thanks to the BUDA::lab and the Kortrijk schools volunteers for helping to make this happen.”
– Ruth Vandenberghe, mayor
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