Care estimates there are some 110 million landmines buried around the world, with more than 70 people killed or injured each day by these deadly devices. Locating and disabling landmines is not only a meticulous and time-intensive task, but an incredibly dangerous one as well. Working to help keep humans out of harm’s way, British scientists are developing drones with advanced imaging technology to more effectively map and speed up the clearing of affected areas.

Flying a drone over a football stadium would normally incite all kinds of outrage from protective managers determined to safeguard their secret tactics. But last week at Old Trafford, the home of global footballing giant Manchester United, an unmanned aircraft was given free rein as researchers demonstrated the potential of an airborne approach to landmine detection.

Funded by Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton, the Find A Better Way charity has been working since 2011 to advance technologies that will enable safer and more efficient clearance of landmines. Its latest push in this area involves teaming up with scientists at the University of Bristol to deploy drones that can quickly identify landmines buried in the ground.

The researchers estimate that removing the landmines scattered across the globe using current technologies would cost around US$30 billion and take more than 1,000 years. They plan to significantly cut these numbers by fitting drones with hyperspectral imaging technology to quickly identify where mines are buried.

“Flying over the Manchester United pitch will demonstrate that we can map a football pitch-sized area of land in two hours or less,” said John Fardoulis, project researcher from Bristol University. “Clearing a minefield that size can currently take months, and the maps our drones will generate should help deminers focus on the places where mines are most likely to be found. This will speed the process up and make the demining significantly safer.”