Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian-Canadian engineer pushes to use robots in UXO removal

Cambodian-Canadian engineer pushes to use robots in UXO removal

Members of Cambodian Mine Action Center search for mines using a metal detector on the K5 mine belt in Battambang province.
Members of Cambodian Mine Action Center search for mines using a metal detector on the K5 mine belt in Battambang province. Heng Chivoan

Cambodian-Canadian engineer pushes to use robots in UXO removal

You won’t find the “freedom to walk” inscribed in any UN conventions or national constitutions, but for 24-year-old Richard Yim, it’s one of the most important rights in the world.

Taken for granted in most places, such a freedom can be difficult to find in parts of northeast Cambodia. It’s a problem Richard saw first-hand growing up in Banteay Meanchey province, where he learned at a young age the disastrous effects that unexploded ordnance, or UXO, can have on civilians.

After moving to Canada when he was 13 years old and getting a degree in mechanical engineering, the dual Cambodian-Canadian citizen returned to the Kingdom last week for the local launch of his robotics company, called Demine Robotics, which he hopes will change the way UXO is removed.

“I want to push and give opportunity to everyone – regardless of where they were born – to have the freedom to walk just like any other places,” the new CEO said in a recent interview.

The team has been working on a demining robot in Canada for several years, but Demine Robotics marks the first official foray into the Cambodian market. The company has announced plans to bring its third robot prototype, named the Excavator, to the country for testing in May.

Demining in Cambodia is a slow, labour-intensive process. About 4,000 mine removal specialists work to clear large swathes of land, removing decades-old explosives with metal detectors and shovels.

“It should change,” Richard said of the current demining process. “We have travelled far, and we should not still send humans with shovels to dig the mines.”


In addition to safety concerns, the UXO removal process in Cambodia is painstaking work. A UN report from late 2016 showed Cambodia was far behind its demining goals, and was unlikely to meet a deadline of 2025 to remove all UXO from the country.

Given that the majority of funding for Cambodia’s demining operation comes from abroad, some experts have suggested international donors could start to withdraw funding if the pace of removal doesn’t accelerate.

That makes Demine Robotics’ goal – to create a safer, less labour-intensive demining method – an attractive option for the government. The company said it has not yet finalised a cost for its newest prototype.

Ly Thuch, the secretary-general of the Cambodian Mine Action Authority (CMAA), said he was proud to have a young Cambodian engineer building robots for his home country.

Thuch, the person in charge of coordinating Cambodia’s demining operations, also said the firm could become a lynchpin of the government’s demining strategy moving forward.

“I appreciate it, and I’m very happy for [Richard’s] achievements,” Thuch said. “We are ready to cooperate on anything with his team to have this humanitarian mission be a success.”

More than 100 deminers have been killed on the job in the last 25 years, according to Thuch, while over 60,000 people have been killed or injured by UXO in Cambodia since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979.

The number of UXO victims has gone down in recent years – last March was the first month since records began to see zero injuries or fatalities from UXO – as the government has overseen the removal of more than 1 million anti-personnel mines and 2 million other explosives.

But Thuch acknowledged there was still a long way to go. The same UN report suggesting Cambodia was not on track for the 2025 deadline found that about half of the areas with UXO in the country had yet to be cleared.

If Demine Robotics’s tests in May go according to plan, the company could have a future in helping the government re-establish the freedom to walk on the country’s northeast.

“I am hoping that this machine will be the future of our demining system,” Thuch said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen says Kingdom not a 'satellite country'

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said Cambodia had sent diplomatic notes to various embassies demonstrating its stance and clarifying allegations that the Kingdom is a satellite country of China which will allow it exclusive access to the Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province. The response

  • Vast Prince Manor fun park opens to much fanfare in Kandal

    Chinese-owned Prince Culture and Development Co Ltd officially launched the $85 million Prince Manor entertainment centre in Kandal province on Wednesday. Prince Manor is located along National Road 1, 20km from the centre of Phnom Penh. It is the first major theme park project in Cambodia and

  • Angkor provides ‘valuable’ water storage

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has stored millions of cubic metres of water at reservoirs in the Angkor area after Cambodia experienced a series of rainstorms over the last few days. The storing of the water, besides serving temple conservation, will also be used to

  • Floods prompt evacuations in Kampong Speu

    Rain-induced floods and water flowing from Kampong Speu province have submerged the houses of 1,527 families living close to the Prek Thnot River in Spean Thma, Tien, Kong Noy and Roluos communes in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, according to data from local authorities. Spean Thma

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from

  • Cintri strike ends, workers’ contracts to be terminated

    CINTRI (Cambodia) Ltd rubbish collectors who have been on strike for the past 13 days agreed to return to work starting Wednesday evening after the company agreed to terminate their contracts at the end of January next year and provide seniority payments and other benefits to