The Self-Healing Minefield
November 27, 2002 2:33 PM   Subscribe

The Self-Healing Minefield From the current Village Voice: "Utilizing commercial off-the-shelf computer chips and 'healing' software, the networked minefield detects rude attempts to clear it, deduces which parts of itself have been removed, and signals its remaining munitions to close the hole using best-fit mathematics."

Bonus ubertasteless Flash animation courtesy of DARPA here. Color me fascinated and repulsed in equal measure.
posted by Armitage Shanks (40 comments total)
My god. The military watches Deep Space Nine.

Worse, they're following Rom's lead.

May the Prophets forgive us.

I'd really like to know how the mines move without destroying themselves. I won't ask if they vibrate.
posted by WolfDaddy at 2:42 PM on November 27, 2002

"healing minefield"

sick sick sick.
posted by donkeyschlong at 2:44 PM on November 27, 2002

Now, if only they could use that technology to create mines that disable themselves after receiving a certain encrypted signal from the party who installed them (e.g., "The war's over"), or even that simply deactivate themselves after a certain period of time.
posted by oissubke at 2:45 PM on November 27, 2002

Enough with the 'color me' nonsense. It's not big and it's not clever.
posted by zeoslap at 2:48 PM on November 27, 2002

Color me chastised.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 2:50 PM on November 27, 2002

"Self-healing limbs not included"
posted by RobbieFal at 2:51 PM on November 27, 2002

if the sight of limbless children makes you queasy, the international campaign to ban landmines could use your support.
posted by jcruelty at 2:56 PM on November 27, 2002

oissubke, mines which deactivate after a set period are commonly referred to as "smart mines" (have at it, donkeyschlong.) The concept has been received with significant skepticism:-

Human Rights Watch "Smart Mines are a Dumb Solution"
posted by brantstrand at 3:02 PM on November 27, 2002

donkeyschlong, I'm with you. To name a minefield "self healing" is the ultimate in cynical and shameful euphemisms.

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks...
Bob Dylan
posted by madamjujujive at 3:07 PM on November 27, 2002

What is the deal with DARPA? Shouldn't this kind of thing be secret? Why do we have a government that won't release energy policy documents but can't shut up about their newest way to kill foreigners or conduct surveillance on US citizens?
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:10 PM on November 27, 2002

The second I posted I realized the answer I was looking for: It's marketing. It's our latest product ready to ship for the holiday $ea$on.
posted by elwoodwiles at 3:11 PM on November 27, 2002

Not that it's not repulsive, but does it make any difference that the mines are anti-tank, not anti-personel. Does it take a different kind of pressure to set off anti-tank mines?
posted by SweetJesus at 3:29 PM on November 27, 2002

It makes worlds of difference.

Anti-tank mines are set off by combinations of large weights, loud sounds, and strong magnetic fields. They're so insensitive to people that by themselves, they are easily cleared by dismounted infantry.

The current way to get around this is by scattering lots of antipersonnel mines in with them; the self-healing minefield is expressly intended to remove the need for those anti-personnel mines.

From a human-rights perspective or for protecting civilians, the self-healing minefield is a good thing.
posted by jaek at 3:43 PM on November 27, 2002

DARPA invented the Internet. Now they invent the Internet Jumping Flash Mine.

Save me.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:52 PM on November 27, 2002

jaek - perhaps if you had some autonomously-intelligent hopping anti-tank explosives in your front garden you wouldn't feel so confident about them.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 3:58 PM on November 27, 2002

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the US building 'safer' landmines does nothing to prevent the continued deployment of landmines by countries whose militaries could not afford this technology. Ending civilian deaths and maimings by landmines requires some leadership on the part of the US, and that means abandoning the practice.
posted by eddydamascene at 3:59 PM on November 27, 2002

oh god. this is bad. bad. bad. bad.
posted by angry modem at 4:16 PM on November 27, 2002

From a human-rights perspective or for protecting civilians, the self-healing minefield is a good thing.

Never trust somthing that thinks, if you can't see where it keeps its brain - which in this case is classified. Wait until the next generation of 'self-healing' mine fields, which will determine when the field has been breached to an untenable degree, and shit out a bunch of anti-personnel mines.
posted by GriffX at 4:20 PM on November 27, 2002

besides that this has got to violate some law of robotics, if they really ever applied at all, anyway.
posted by angry modem at 4:23 PM on November 27, 2002

on second look, the mine ban treaty only covers anti-personnel mines. Why haven't we signed that again?
posted by eddydamascene at 4:42 PM on November 27, 2002

This should make mine use safer, at least for countries able to get them. Not only do these not need anti-personel mines to go with them, you could theoretically transmit a signal that would make them all shut themselves off or perhaps even all hop into a pile so they can be easily collected.

Perhaps later more advanced designs can be implemented, for instance mines that can move for long distances and follow troop movements on their own. The main problem I see for that would be finding a small power source with enough energy to move that much.
posted by Mitrovarr at 4:45 PM on November 27, 2002

I prefer plain-old constitutively active hair-trigger landmines. These new things are just horrific.
posted by shoos at 5:01 PM on November 27, 2002

"its remaining munitions to close the hole using best-fit mathematics"

Eep, that's OGR. I sincerly hope my cycles haven't been going towards this.
posted by krisjohn at 5:14 PM on November 27, 2002

Eep, that's OGR. I sincerly hope my cycles haven't been going towards this.

Can you elaborate?
posted by angry modem at 5:53 PM on November 27, 2002


What is a Golomb Ruler anyway?

In mathematics, the term "Golomb Ruler" refers to a set of non-negative integers such that no two distinct pairs of numbers from the set have the same difference. Conceptually, this is similar to a ruler constructed in such a way that no two pairs of marks measure the same distance. An Optimal Golomb Ruler (OGR) is the shortest Golomb Ruler possible for a given number of marks. However, finding (and proving) OGR's becomes exponentially more difficult as the number of marks increases, and it is for this reason that we have turned to the web for help in finding the OGR's with 24 and more marks.

Golomb rulers are named after Dr. Solomon W. Golomb, a professor of Mathematics with a special interest in combinatorial analysis, number theory, coding theory and communications. Dr. Golomb also has an interest in mathematical games and puzzles, having been a contributer to many columns in the Scientific American "Mathematical Games". OGR's have many applications including sensor placements for X-ray crystallography and radio astronomy. Golomb rulers can also play a significant role in combinatorics, coding theory and communications, and Dr. Golomb was one of the first to analyze them for use in these areas.

They're used to determine most efficient placement of objects to best cover an area.
posted by krisjohn at 6:52 PM on November 27, 2002

Heh, the self-healing minefield is mentioned in the Get Your War On ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H book that shall not be named.
posted by UKnowForKids at 8:56 PM on November 27, 2002

Putting aside the whole good vs evil mine debate - I just want to see the mines hop. Not some flash or animation, artistic rendition of what they'd look like hopping. Just wanna see some hopping mines.
posted by Salmonberry at 9:36 PM on November 27, 2002

perhaps if you had some autonomously-intelligent hopping anti-tank explosives in your front garden you wouldn't feel so confident about them

Depends. What's on the other side of the garden? Are they nice?

In any case, I have to agree -- the name self-healing is completely icky. Why not self-repairing? And, no, this has little to do with either the GWOT or Iraq. But as long as the DPRK has a million-man army (who get all the food), regional missiles, and we've-got-'em, no-we-don't, gotcha nukes ... anything that makes the DMZ more formidable is good. Israel may want a few for the Golan. And Taiwan would like anything that will slow down a mechanized landing force. I can't think of anyplace else, though, that's actually facing down hostile cavalry at the moment.
posted by dhartung at 9:46 PM on November 27, 2002

Oh, the idea behind hopping mines (grasshoppers), and a couple of {big} pictures; the hopping tech got its start in ideas for reconnaissance applications.

As for the landmine treaty, the Ottawa Convention banning anti-personnel landmines, under Clinton the US had announced its intention to accede by 2006 -- pending development of better anti-tank mines just like these, so that as jaek pointed out we can eliminate the anti-personnel mines. We also promised to end deployment of anti-personnel mines, outside Korea, by 2003 (and if there were any, apparently they have, indeed, ended). There seems to have been gnashing of teeth about the Bush administration's being "inclined" to abandon that promise, but they have not formally done so.
posted by dhartung at 10:01 PM on November 27, 2002

I can't speak for the rest of Taiwan, but I personally don't want these things on our beaches. If we sacrifice our gorgeous beaches, the Commies have already won!
posted by Poagao at 10:19 PM on November 27, 2002

From a human-rights perspective or for protecting civilians, the self-healing minefield is a good thing.

You must be joking! How can any minefield, or any mine, be a good thing from any perspective?
posted by dg at 10:50 PM on November 27, 2002

dg: Because it's better than the alternative. Putting down a self-healing anti-tank minefield is a lot better than putting down a mine-field with anti-tank and anti-personnel mines.
I don't think these will come to use in a long, long time however. A normal anti-tank mine is just 10kg of TNT in a fibershell with a plastic cap on top, the detonator is inside the cap. When a tank drives on top of the mine, the plastic cap breaks and the mine explodes.
These self-healing mines would cost a lot more, considering they would need a powersource, a communications device, a computer and a some means to move around.
posted by lazy-ville at 11:33 PM on November 27, 2002

These intelligent mines are the crude ascendants of what will doubtless be a zesty cadre of robotic coercive devices. Please show them the respect they deserve.
posted by Opus Dark at 11:39 PM on November 27, 2002

These work a bit like Spider Mines from Starcraft. We'll need these to fight off the Zerg swarm.
posted by Scoo at 5:58 AM on November 28, 2002

dg: From the perspective of the people who are protected from invasion by the minefield. Maybe you could give them a moment of your thought.

Also, the major alternative to minefields is soldiers, and lots of them. So from the perspective of the soldiers who would otherwise be employed trying to hold a plain or a pass, minefields are quite a good thing indeed.

There is no doubt that mines have their drawbacks, and when conflict passes, the civilian population bears the brunt of this. Professional militaries, such as the United States, keep excellent records of where they are deployed and in what variety, making cleanup that much easier. The main problem is minefields laid by irregulars and the like who keep no records at all, leading to situations where nobody living knows of them. That's bad.
posted by dhartung at 10:11 AM on November 28, 2002

From a human-rights perspective or for protecting civilians, the self-healing minefield is a good thing.

Until it's commercial off the shelf technology is lickety-split adapted for anti-personnel mines, that is.

What is with that cheesy organ and ominous echoing drumbeat theme at the start--it's always on military fan sites or in these sort of armaments ads, er, animations--and from where in the hell does it come? That thing is ubiquitous.
posted by y2karl at 12:02 PM on November 28, 2002

lazy-ville, do you fail to see that there is more than one alternative? Have you considered that it is possible to not use land mines in the first place?

dhartung, I understand that there are places in the world, such as South Korea, where protection from invasion is needed and mines are an efficient (if not effective) method of doing this. A more or less permanent situation such as the DMZ in Korea is probably the only acceptable use of mines that comes to mind.

If they could come up with a mine that could tell the difference between a tank and, for example, a school bus, then that would be closer to something acceptable for more general use. But they can't do that and they can't guarantee that they will be used only as intended or be documented. You do not have to look very hard to see the almost inevitable consequences of minefields.

As y2karl says, how long do you think it will be before we have anti-personnel mines that can do the same thing? Can you imagine the nightmare of trying to clear a minefield when the mines keep moving when you aren't looking?
posted by dg at 4:03 PM on November 28, 2002

Um, maybe I'm missing something, but if they hop, doesn't that make them uncover themselves... allowing them to be seen quite easily? Or do they bury themselves after they... hop?
posted by kevspace at 5:50 PM on November 28, 2002

kevspace, that was my thinking. It might inadvertently make clearing the minefield easier, though - find one anti-tank mine, remove it, and wait for the other mines to pop up, track their movement, and remove the newly-spotted mines. Repeat as needed. On the bright side, it's good to see Bluetooth spreading beyond cell-phones!
posted by sysinfo at 9:16 AM on November 30, 2002

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