When Richard Yim was young, the thought of running around freely was unheard of in his native Cambodia.
The presence of landmines and unexploded ammunition as a result of civil war made tiptoeing around a literal way of living.
“Wherever you go see, you see landmines; for me, it has always been a problem I’ve seen since I was young,” Yim recalled. “When I moved here to Canada is when I realized, one of the most basic freedom that people (have) is the freedom to walk, the ability to walk places without worry about stepping on explosives.”
“When I was young, the thought of running around in the jungle, in the forest, in the field, was absurd to my parents.”
Drawing inspiration from his past, Yim, as part of a project during his time at the University of Waterloo, decided to find a solution to this monumental problem himself.
Landmine Boys, which is now known as Demine Robotics, was born in the hopes of excavating landmines.
The startup was founded in 2016 by engineering graduates; its headquarters are now at the Tannery in Kitchener.
Yim moved to Toronto when he was 13 before moving to Waterloo in 2011 to pursue his mechanical engineering degree, and he’s been here ever since.
Yim toured several minefields in Cambodia as well as completing an intensive demining program with the Cambodian Mine Action Center, says Demine Robotics has worked on four iterations of machines, each of which has been progressively more functional than the last to help rid the country of unexploded ordinances (UXOs).
According to Demine Robotics’ website, Cambodia has four to six million landmines and UXOs.
The latest machine developed by Demine is called the Jevit, a remote-controlled excavator unit that has been designed to unearth anti-personal mines and other small-sized UXOs.
It has been designed with two mechanical arms, which plunge into the ground under a mine to “lift it out of the ground safely and efficiently.”
Demining has three main steps, as Yim described: locating the landmines, removing them and detonation. Currently, removal is done by hand as deminers have to be extremely careful during the removal process.
Demine Robotics has gone through several tests, and the latest was very successful, Yim Says, making it a “big moment” for the ambitious startup.
Through the testing, Yim has been in proximity with several landmines, which has help lessen the fear toward them a bit.
“It wasn’t scary at the time to do it; looking back, it always sends a bit of shiver down my spin,” Yim explained.
“Just a thought that if I were to trip or one wrong step, can change my life completely or can cost me my life, that’s a scary thought.”
Demine has also worked in conjunction with the Cambodia Mine Action Centre, a non-governmental organization.