A warm wind blows across an empty field on the outskirts of Pawnee, Okla. A small group of researchers struggle against the stiff wind to set up a pop-up tent for some shade. Nearby a young man opens a heavy Pelican case to reveal a pile of explosives.“These are inert,” he says, “but we’re lucky to be working at a range that has so many different kinds of munitions.”
The range is an explosive-ordnance-disposal field laboratory maintained by Oklahoma State University, and the researchers are led by Jasper Baur and Gabriel Steinberg, co-founders of the Demining Research Community, a nonprofit organization bridging academic research and humanitarian demining efforts. They have been in Oklahoma for two weeks, setting up grids of mines and munitions to train a drone-based, machine-learning-powered detection system to find and identify dangerous explosives so humans don’t have to.
The Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor reports that at least 7,073 people were killed or injured by mines in 54 countries and areas in 2020. Many of the groups working to remove these old munitions are nonprofits with a fraction of the resources of the militaries that deployed the dangerous explosives.