Sir Bobby Charlton visits SEMIS

Project SEMIS enters Phase II

Find A Better Way had such a busy Autumn that we let an important milestone slip by in October without acknowledgement: The SEMIS programme has now entered Phase II of its research.

SEMIS is one of Find A Better Way’s flagship landmine detection projects. It is based at The University of Manchester and led by Professor Anthony Peyton. The project is developing advanced metal detection technology and combining it with ground penetrating radar (GPR) in a single device – something not currently widely available to the humanitarian demining community.

Phase I focused on developing the technology and solving research issues in laboratory conditions. Combining advanced metalcharacterisation with GPR poses several design challenges as GPR devices often contain metal components, but placing metal instrumentation into the same device as a metal detector creates obvious problems.

According to Professor Peyton, ‘We have to design GPR units that use absolutely as little metal as possible. Until we found a way to do this we were unable to test GPR and our new metal detection technology together.’

The advanced metal detection, which employs both more sensors and more detection frequencies than most metal detection devices available for humanitarian use, is where the real breakthroughs will come for SEMIS. By being able to detect not just metal, but what types of metal and the direction pieces of metal are pointing, it is hoped the results will vastly improve the ability of deminers to know what is a mine and what is just metal in the ground.

‘In former conflict zones it’s not unusual for there to be all types of metallic clutter such as shrapnel, shell fragments, or a hundred other types of metal debris in the ground,’ Professor Peyton explained. ‘Currently deminers have to treat nearly all buried metal as a possible landmine. If we can give them ‘smart’ metal detection that can determine what is a mine and what is a harmless piece of metal, we hope the process of demining will be accelerated.’

Now that the Project SEMIS team has combined the two types of sensor into a single device, and have had good results in laboratory conditions, Phase II will concentrate on ‘knowledge transfer’ activities in the field.

‘In the laboratory we are indoors working in rather idealised conditions and although we do testing in an outdoor test site, It’s crucial that any new design work in ideal conditions first, but for this technology to be really useful we have to make sure it works in real minefields,’ Professor Peyton said.

One of the biggest challenges for most detection research projects is the problems created by ‘non-cooperative soil‘ which for example is rich in iron and other minerals. Non-cooperative soil, which is surprisingly common, causes interference with the electromagnetic waves emitted by both metal detection and GPR.

To help with this challenge, Project SEMIS are very lucky to have additional support from another Find A Better Way-funded project, Project PERUN based at the University of Zagreb and led by Professor Vedran Bilas. Professor Bilas and his team are designing a new sensor that detects difficult soil conditions in real time, and then using a software algorithm, compensates for any distortion caused by water or minerals.

The teams from Project SEMIS & Project PERUN have twice met at the landmine detection testing centre in Benkovac, Croatia, to test their work alongside each other. The two teams, and possibly several other Find A Better Way-funded projects, hope to do the same thing again this Spring.

Phase II of Project SEMIS is expected to last two years. By its conclusion Professor Peyton hopes to have a prototype device that uses advanced metal detection and GPR in a range of real-life conditions.

Find A Better Way founder Sir Bobby Charlton is an enthusiastic supporter of the work being done by the Project SEMIS team. He enjoyed a personal tour of the lab and met with the team on a recent visit to The University of Manchester.

‘This is very exciting science,’ Professor Peyton explained, ‘and I’m honoured to be leading such an innovative project. Ultimately, though, this is helping Sir Bobby realise his dream of a landmine free world and, most importantly, saving many lives over the years to come.’