Two years have passed since the deadline for achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) set by the United Nations (UN) in 2000 was reached. In addition to the eight goals which have yet to be reached, some countries set additional goals for themselves, including Laos and Cambodia, who committed to eradicating all mines from their territories by the year 2015. And, like the eight official MDGs, the dream of eliminating mines from the ground of these countries has yet to be achieved. In April of this year, the General Secretary of the UN, António Guterres, declared that it is necessary to continue to prioritize this mine clearance process within the international agenda.
Chris Natt, a design engineer and strategist, is one of the people who could help to achieve this ninth MDG, through his development of a tool which assists anti-mine technicians. Thanks to his initiative, Natt has been recognized as one of MIT Technology Review, Spanish Edition´s Innovators Under 35 Europe 2017. The young engineer explains that anti-personnel mines remain active years after their placement and are not designed “to kill” but rather to cause irreparable damages, like the loss of limbs.
Currently, mine clearance activities are usually performed by unskilled workers, employed and trained by NGOs, who extract the mines manually, which means that any error can carry disastrous consequences. With these workers in mind, Natt has created Blast Proof, a reactive training tool aimed at improving risk perception and identifying potential plans of action. His objective is to identify and develop new work methods to help prevent injury to the local teams dedicated to the manual removal of mines.
The device is a reactive electronic reproduction of an anti-personnel mine which “detonates” upon disturbance. But instead of exploding, a series of auditory, visual and tactile stimuli are triggered. These false mines imitate the shape, weight, sensitivity and unpredictability of real mines. Their sensitivity can also be adjusted for training purposes. For now, the prototypes are being manufactured through 3D printing, although according to Natt this will not represent the final manufacturing method.
Blast Proof was born in 2012 during Natt´s final year of study in the Innovation Design Engineering Master´s Program at the Royal College of Art in London (United Kingdom). Natt had previously worked on Loowatt, a project in Madagascar focused on the development of waterless toilets. He has also participated in the Helixcentre project, centered around the rehabilitation of victims of cerebrovascular accidents, as a design engineer. This quick glance at his background demonstrates his firm commitment to “helping people through the engineering industry.” To him, this is “fascinating work.”
The previous Innovator Under 35 Spain 2013 laureate Luis Alonso, who has served as a jury member for this competition, considers Natt´s project is not only “innovative”, but also “has the potential to have a great impact in the humanitarian field.” In this expert´s opinion, Blast Proof “changes the means of addressing humanitarian ground mine clearance operations in a safer, educational way - a mission which spans over 50 countries worldwide.”