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Bucks-born minesweeper gets $2M DOD grant

Its creators have given it a cute robot name, but don't be fooled, SCAMP is no R2-D2.

Its creators have given it a cute robot name, but don't be fooled, SCAMP is no R2-D2.

Now in its third incarnation, SCAMP is essentially a heavy steel frame that holds in place a half-dozen pneumatic pistons that press two rows of nine steel wheels to the ground.

As inelegant as it looks, it's purpose is inspired: to safely and inexpensively rid the world of land mines.

SCAMP (Specialized Compact Automated Mechanical-clearance Platform) had its coming-out party today at Grundy Industrial Complex in Bristol, Bucks County.

The occasion was the announcement that SCAMP's designers had received $2 million in Department of Defense grants to turn their prototype into a fully functional, commercially viable product.

SCAMP is the brainchild of Samuel Reeves, a 25-year-old Wharton School grad, and Joshua Koplin, a 32-year-old with a master's degree from the Pratt Institute School of Design.

Reeves and Koplin are founders of Humanistic Robotics Inc., a start-up that seeks a better way to find and destroy land mines.

The need is evident: There are 45 million to 100 million land mines in the ground worldwide, according to the Canadian Red Cross. There are thousands of casualties each year.

Although there are mechanical de-mining devices, most are large and costly, Koplin said. As a result, 80 percent of the work is done by individuals on their hands and knees, using knives or bayonets to painstakingly search for mines.

It takes a day to clear 20 square feet by hand, Koplin said. A SCAMP, which can be pushed over a field by a remote-controlled tractor, can clear about an acre a day, Koplin estimated.

It does so by moving slowing across the ground, each wheel exerting 100 to 300 pounds of pressure, enough to trigger an explosion.

The SCAMP is designed to survive land-mine blasts, which tend not to be terribly powerful, simply strong enough to inflict horrible damage to a human being.

"They are not meant to kill," Reeves said. "The idea is to maim you so you become an expense to your government."

Reeves and Koplin aim to keep SCAMP's size and cost reasonable and affordable and practical for worldwide use.

They estimate that a typical unit would run less than $100,000, about a fifth the cost of other de-mining devices.

The current SCAMP prototype is little more than four-foot wide. Reeves and Koplin envision rows of their robots rapidly clearing now forbidding acres.

With their grants from the Department of Defense, they see their small company growing from four to 12 employees, including engineers, designers, project managers.

Their hope is to have a completed unit out somewhere in the world by the end of the year, crawling slowly over fields, detonating mines.