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Mine Kafon: From child's toy to de-mining device


The spindly design aims to be light enough to be blown by the wind, but with enough mass to potentially trigger a mine. Courtesy Massoud Hassani/Ardent Film
The spindly design aims to be light enough to be blown by the wind, but with enough mass to potentially trigger a mine. Courtesy Massoud Hassani/Ardent Film

Daniel Martins, staff writer

December 2, 2012 — Designer Massoud Hassani channelled his experiences with land mines in Afghanistan into a de-mining device inspired by a childhood toy.

Designer Massoud Hassani grew up in Afghanistan, and is no stranger to land mines. Courtesy: Massoud Hassani/Ardent Film
Designer Massoud Hassani grew up in Afghanistan, and is no stranger to land mines. Courtesy: Massoud Hassani/Ardent Film

It looks like an artsy tumbleweed, or an over-sized child's toy.

With dozens of bamboo legs topped with plastic "feet," sprouting out from an iron core, the "Mine Kafon" rolls where the wind takes it.

And the Mine Kafon's designer, Massoud Hassani, hopes the wind will blow it right over a land mine.

Growing up in Kabul, Afghanistan, Hassani was no stranger to land mines. As children, he and his brother would invent wind-powered toys, and race them with other children.

There was always a strong wind blowing toward the mountains, he  says, sometimes blowing the toys too far -- into areas known to be deadly ground.

While parents would be worried, Hassani said the children were more accepting of the realities of living in a place touched by war.

"For us, it was not a really big thing, because we were really used to it, because we grew up in it," he tells the Weather Network, speaking by phone from the Netherlands.

In time, he left Afghanistan, settling in the Netherlands as a refugee and enrolling in the Design Academy of Eindhoven.

But as a designer, he never forgot  those childhood games, so when it came time to make his final project, he designed a much larger version --- then hit upon how to apply it.

"It was more just a joke," he recalls wryly. "I told the teacher, oh, yeah, I can make one of these wind power toys, we can throw them over the field ... to explore landmines. He said ... right, you should do it!"

He began working on prototypes, that could be light enough to be blown by the wind, but heavy enough to detonate any land mines they would roll over.

The Mine Kafon's legs are made from bamboo, capped with recycled plastic "feet." Courtesy Massoud Hassani/Ardent Film
The Mine Kafon's legs are made from bamboo, capped with recycled plastic "feet." Courtesy Massoud Hassani/Ardent Film

His work eventually caught the eye of film maker Callum Cooper of Ardent Film.

Cooper told the Weather Network he thought the project could benefit from a documentary treatment, not just about the Mine Kafon, but also about Hassani himself.

"He grew up in what was essentially a war zone -- he grew up around explosives," Cooper says. "His solution is kind of playful in the way it works ... using his childhood as an inspiration."

Cooper and Hassani worked on the film for several months, at one point even enlisting the help of the Dutch military for field testing, filming in the Netherlands and Morocco. Cooper says they plan to take a future prototype to Afghanistan.

Hassani has gone through several prototypes, including one which weighs about 70kg and includes a GPS tracker. It's sturdy enough to survive about four mine detonations before needing to be replaced, and can be mass produced at an estimated cost of $50 each -- far less than the current average cost of clearing a mine.

Cooper says while the current design could be improved upon to make it more effective at detonating mines, its low cost could make it a boon to people living in areas known to be mined.

"It's aiming to be something that is affordable to people, an affordable solution," he said. 

A version of the film is a finalist in the Sundance Institute's Focus Forward film series.

Cooper and Hassani hope the film will generate enough awareness of the Mine Kafon to enable it to be eventually picked up by developers for mass production. A kickstarter is planned shortly, and Hassani is slated for several exhibitions.

"After the test, it worked, but now we have to change a lot of things to make it go in the real world," Hassani says. "And for that, you need a kind of funding. That will be the next step." 

You can check out a sample of Ardent Film's video here.

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