Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have attracted a lot of attention as a result of their use in Iraq and Afghanistan, but IEDs are used by guerillas and terrorist groups in many parts of the world, including Colombia. Being sensitive to the problem of IEDs, two Colombian doctoral students from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) set about looking for a way to explode such devices at a distance. In collaboration with two Colombian Universities the EPFL students developed a device that can explode IEDs remotely by using energy from their electromagnetic impulses.

The two main technical difficulties the students, Félix Vega and Nicolas Mora, had to address in developing their system were finding a way of inducting a current that would be strong enough to set off the detonators of the mines at a distance, and of ensuring they were attaining the resonance frequencies of the various types of mines, which are all constructed in different ways.

To scan the highest possible number of frequencies, it’s necessary to create short impulses with a very fast response time. But spanning a large spectrum of resonances results in only a fraction of the impulse created reaching the target. This means that by the time the current reaches the target, it is no longer strong enough to explode the mine.

"We then realized that in spite of the wide diversity of these mines, they are however all in similar frequency ranges", said Nicolas Mora. "So we developed a system that concentrates on those, and thus loses less energy."

The researchers’ system was tested at the Electromagnetic Compatibility Laboratory in Colombia using actual improvised mines provided by a team of professional bomb disposal experts. They were successfully able to set off the mines at an average distance of 20 m (65.6 ft).

The achievement of the EPFL-led team is the result of two years of research work and they are now working to develop a smaller prototype that is weather resistant and easier to transport in the field.

With the wide variety of IEDs it remains to be seen whether the students’ device will be effective against all IEDs but, when it is ready for the field, it should prove a valuable addition to the arsenal of those whose dangerous job it is to disarm the devices that kill or mutilate hundreds of thousands of people every year.