Danes Developing Drone UXO Hunter

Technical University of Denmark (DTU) has teamed up with compatriot drone company Sky-Watch to develop a drone with magnetometers capable of mapping mines in former war zones, which will initially be used to identify potential unexploded ordnance (UXO) along the power cable routes of future offshore wind farms.

Image source: DTU

Mines are usually made of magnetic steel, and the search for mines therefore often involves ‘magnetometers’—instruments capable of measuring minor magnetic deviations in the subsurface and thereby localizing the mines.

“The plan is for our drone and its unique magnetometer module to make demining more precise than the current method of using off-road vehicles on land and special divers in coastal areas. It will also minimize the risk of injuries for the people involved, as the drone can be operated from a safe position outside the mined areas,” said Arne Døssing, Senior Research, DTU Space, who heads the project of developing the new technology.

Døssing also believes that the new demining system could reduce the costs and time of mapping the presence of mines by more than 50 per cent. He is the originator of the idea to develop the new demining system consisting of a newly developed drone type with a frame installed underneath it, which will be specially developed by DTU Space researchers. The frame is referred to as a ‘magnetometer bird’, as the magnetometer is embedded in the frame, which is attached to the drone and hangs approx. 5-10 metres below it.

“It will be the first drone in the world to fly with a ‘bird’ underneath it. This construction is absolutely necessary to ensure the ultra-sensitive magnetometers are as close to the surface as possible, at the same time as minimizing exposure to magnetic disturbances from other instruments and from the flying drone,” said Døssing.

For the same reason, the equipment designed to measure the exact position of the drone—and thus of the detected mines—is installed in the drone rather than in the ‘bird’.

The drone itself is also an innovation. It has been developed by Sky-Watch, and in addition to the ability to fly like a regular aircraft, it allows for vertical take-off and landing in the same way as a helicopter, DTU said.

Initially, the researchers will be focusing on the need to clear mines from World War II, before laying power cables to new offshore wind turbines. It is assumed that the number of unexploded mines from World War II hidden in the sea and on land exceeds 40,000.

Therefore, there are several parties involved in the project which are interested in applying the new technology, DTU said. In addition to the drone company Sky-Watch, DONG Energy is establishing many new offshore wind farms, Geo is carrying out geotechnical surveys in connection with, for example, offshore wind farms, and the Royal Danish Navy’s mine clearance service often has the dangerous task of clearing the mines.

The magnetometer drone will also be tested from a vessel in relation to its ability to detect large mines in deeper waters. In both cases, the drone’s ability to take off and land vertically is significant.

Over the next four years, researchers from DTU Space will develop and test the new technology. The hope is that in the long term, the technology can supplement the existing mine detection technologies, which are both expensive and inefficient, according to DTU. The project has received DKK 11 million funding from Innovation Fund Denmark.

“The global market for flexible, efficient, and precise mapping of, for instance, mines, military waste, and minerals is big. So the project will allow Danish technology companies to take a strong position in this area,” Døssing said.