Toy inspires mine-blowing idea

Strolling through New York City's Museum of Modern Art, visitors can see masterpieces by artists such as Picasso, Monet and Rothko. Amid the Applied Design exhibits, they also might stumble upon something that looks like a tumbleweed from outer space.

But the object is not just a museum-worthy sculpture. It is Mine Kafon, an innovative wind-powered mine detonator created by Afghan designer Massoud Hassani.

The 70kg, 190cm-wide device is hand-assembled using bamboo and biodegradable plastics, and has a simple operation: The pressure of the plastic feet at the end of the bamboo rods detonates landmines as the device tumbles across minefields. It can withstand two to four blasts before it is destroyed.

The idea came from Mr Hassani's childhood years in Afghanistan, where he and his brother often made rolling wind toys that they would race and that would often blow into the minefields.

Fleeing Afghanistan at 14, he settled in the Netherlands and enrolled in a Dutch design academy, where he designed a number of small wind-toy prototypes. When he joked that he should use them to detonate mines, his teacher thought it was a great idea - and the Mine Kafon, which means "let the mines explode", was born.

Common demining methods can cost up to US$1,000 (S$1,260) per mine, but Mine Kafon could cost as little as US$40 per unit, once the prototype is perfected and can be produced commercially.

Mr Hassani said Mine Kafon, which can be assembled on site, would be ideal for use by humanitarian organisations.

He has worked with the Dutch military to test early prototypes. While the military has said that the Mine Kafon does not meet its standards yet, Mr Hassani is determined to continue his work.

"The first time it was hard to see it detonated because I spent a lot of time to make the prototype and then it's gone, boom!" he recalled. "Usually people make chairs and these kinds of things, and they hang a sign that says 'Don't touch'. In our case, we blew up the whole prototype."