How This “Toy” Could Save Lives
An inventor from Afghanistan creates a tumbling device that can destroy dangerous bombs
Massoud Hassani’s invention was inspired by a toy he played with as a child. (Jan Hennop / AFP / Newscom)
When Massoud Hassani and his brother Mahmud were little, they’d make their own toys to play with near their home in Afghanistan. Hassani’s favorite was a wind-powered rolling object that he and Mahmud would race. But sometimes, their toys would roll into dangerous areas the boys couldn’t enter—areas filled with land mines.
Land mines are small bombs, usually buried just below the surface of the ground, that are designed to explode under the weight of people or vehicles passing over them. According to the United Nations, more than 110 million active land mines are scattered throughout nearly 80 countries. Buried land mines can remain active for more than 50 years. Each day, people die or lose limbs from stepping on them.
Massoud Hassani’s family left Afghanistan in 1993 and eventually settled in the Netherlands. But he never forgot the rolling toy he’d played with as a child—and he never forgot the land mines that threatened their play.
Hassani used the toy as inspiration to create a wind-powered device that can safely detonate (cause to explode) land mines. Setting off these bombs when no people are around to get hurt is the best-known way to get rid of them.
The device, called Mine Kafon, is made almost entirely of bamboo and biodegradable plastics. Biodegradable materials break down naturally over time and are better for the environment. The device is filled with spiky plungers and resembles a large, round tumbleweed.
The large sphere—nearly 75 inches all the way around—is easily propelled by a normal breeze. Yet at 150 pounds, it is heavy enough to detonate mines as it rolls over them. It also sends location information to a satellite that records each area that the device clears.
“As [Mine Kafon] moves, the spikes get blown off, but the center stays intact,” Hassani told reporters. “It can withstand up to four explosions.”
Usually, trained mine-clearing experts clear land mines. It’s a dangerous job, and it can cost thousands of dollars to defuse one land mine. But Mine Kafon costs as little as $40 to build, making it a low-cost, safe alternative.
Mine Kafon, which is currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, has undergone its first round of testing with the Dutch army. Hassani now plans to develop the device further and test it out in real minefields. But even if it never meets the standards for clearing land mines, Hassani hopes it will at least inspire other designers to think of creative new ways to dispose of the bombs.
“Every destroyed land mine means a saved life,” says Hassani. “And every life counts.”