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How a $50 Wind-Powered Minesweeper May Save Lives

By Wesley Fenlon

Childhood toys inspired designer Massoud Hassani to invent a cheap mine clearing ball that rides the wind.

Though a world apart, the childhood toys of Americans and Afghans shared at least a few similarities. Most kids in the United States likely owned, or at least could recognize, the simplicity of a rubber suction cup ball. The shape now has a larger-than-life analogue in the Mine Kafon, a design-project-turned-humanitarian-invention from Massoud Hassani.

Hassani grew up in Kabul, Afghanistan, and built small toys as a child that would roll along the ground powered by the wind. Inevitably those toys would be blown into a dangerous section of desert around Kabul where land mines lurked, and they would be abandoned. There are still about 10 million land mines scattered throughout Afghanistan. As a design student in the Netherlands, Hassani remembered the toys of his childhood and used them as inspiration for the Mine Kafon.

The Mine Kafon (which means "mine exploder" in the Dari dialect spoken in Afghanistan) is a giant ball that rides the wind, with spindly bamboo legs covered by discs, and what look like the severed rubber heads of plungers providing flexibility for each leg. Hassani compares it to the head of a dandelion, and it has the same potential to give life. The parts in the Mine Kafon cost about 40 Euros (~$50), and could be used by poor villages in Afghanistan and other countries to deal with land mines in dangerous areas.

It is not a perfect solution. The Mine Kafon needs a strong wind to roll and lacks the reliability or accuracy of more advanced mine removal systems. While an embedded GPS tracker helps chart the Mine Kafon's course, it goes where the wind takes it, and a winding path over rocky terrain is hardly guaranteed to clear a minefield. As pointed out by The Atlantic, the mine-clearing Aardvark can detect mines and digs down into the dirt to find them. But the vehicles also cost $500,000.

That's a price no village in Afghanistan could pay, and Hassani hopes that his idea could give people in Afghanistan a way to clear areas they already know are dangerous. Fifty dollars is a price they can pay, and every Mine Kafon has enough legs to take out two or three mines before losing the ability to roll.

A short three minute film about Hassani and his invention is a finalist in the Focus Forward film competition, a collection of films about the world's innovators and inventors. Hassani's creation may not change the world, but it could save lives, and he's already working on a cylindrical Mine Kafon that could touch on more mine-filled ground as it rolls across the desert. The Mine Kafon may lose its familiar suction cup ball shape, but in doing so could become a familiar sight for a new generation in Afghanistan, as wind power and creativity slowly cure the land of buried explosives.