"When we work for the UN we have to prove that an area is 98% clear of mines and fragments," says Henk van der Slik, head of the Dutch EOD unit, who has 23 years of experience in de-mining.
"Normally, we use dogs and mine-detectors. Even if a mine has less than one gram of metal, we can find it."
But, he says, that takes a lot of time and costs a lot of money “because you have to dig out every metal part you detect”.
“You don't know whether it is actually a mine or not until you excavate it," he says.
As a result, you would think that devices like the Kafon, which in theory can speed up this process or take some of the danger out of the equation, would be seen as a quick and easy win. Unfortunately, the tests did not draw the same conclusion.
"It's not suitable for de-mining activities," was van der Slik’s stark analysis. In other words, if the idea is that the Kafon can hit a mine, survive the blast, and then continue to roll on and detonate other mines and eventually clear an area, then van der Slik says it will not work. As it stands, he says, 100g of explosive (the average for antipersonnel mines) stops the Kafon dead it in its tracks right in the middle of a probable mine field, which would make retrieval and repair very dangerous. There are also a couple of other obvious drawbacks. First, you have to have a wind blowing for the Kafon to move. And second, it will only work on fairly flat and open terrain, like a desert. It isn't designed to move in jungles and the like.
Also, van der Slik notes, "when the Kafon is rolling, it would activate trip wires (on fragmentation mines)." If the mine explodes into fragments, he says, it causes “bigger problems”, because in subsequent sweeps “every fragment will be detected as a potential mine." In other words, more metal pieces mean more work for the human de-miners who have to prove 98% clearance.
So not a resounding success, for what seemed like a good idea on paper. But van der Slik says not all is not lost; Hassani's mine Kafon could have other uses.
"The aim is maybe when you have an area of potential risk, you don't know if there are mines, and people are afraid to go in, then you can work with this design and when you have a detonation, you know there are mines, because mines are never alone," he says. "Then you can mark the area as a dangerous area. It's a more humanitarian aim, for marking a potential area."
It’s an idea that resonates with Hassani who, rather than being disappointed that the tests undermined the original idea for the Kafon, is excited about improving the design so that it can be used in the way van der Slik describes. For example, he tells me, it's clear that he needs to find a way to strengthen the device so that it won't lose as many legs when it explodes. "That's why you do the tests," Hassani says, "to see how it gets damaged."
The Kafon was recently selected as a finalist for the 2012 Design of the Year award at the Design Museum in London. And he says he's working to improve the design of the bamboo-legged device, and is talking with engineers to improve both the form and function of it. He also says he's also working on another, more cylindrical version that could potentially detonate more mines at a time.
Right now, Hassani says, further development of the mine kafon idea is his full-time job. He's actively looking to partner with like-minded organizations, and get enough money to move the project out of the prototype phase and into real field tests.
"If that works," Hassani says, "then we can really ramp up the project."