The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) and Belgian non-profit Apopo have collaborated in the research and development of new technologies to use drones and equip mine-sniffing dogs with cameras, speakers and remote communication systems known as Smart.
The technology makes it easier for Smart dogs to detect unexploded ordnance (UXO) and war-era mines in the Kingdom.
CMAC director-general Heng Ratana told The Post on Monday that, with the new technologies, the Smart dogs sniff and detect explosives with experts controlling and inspecting the operation from a distance through an image screen.
Ratana said the research and development of the new technology has proved a success since the launch of the programme in Preah Vihear province in March.
“We have successfully tested the new technology on minefields in Preah Vihear province . . . The new technology makes it easy for CMAC demining officials to see dogs running to find mines and explosives from afar. It enables controllers to see the entire minefields and speed up landmine clearance,” he said.
Ratana said CMAC and Apopo have also worked in partnership with many other de-mining specialists from Bosnia, Norway and Sweden to jointly research other new technologies.
After training the Smart dogs for a period of three to four months, CMAC would equip six of them with the new technology on a trial.
“The materials for equipping the dogs were produced in Geneva and Switzerland and were donated by Apopo and other donors from Geneva and Belgium in the first stage. But later on, CMAC will have to buy the materials and technologies itself. They are quite expensive,” he said.
Michael Heiman, Apopo Cambodia Programme Manager, said on Tuesday that Smart is an electronic system that includes a harness with a camera, speaker and GPS mounted on each dog and controlled by its handler via a smartphone.
The whole kit was developed by GICHD and Digger in Switzerland, and Apopo was selected as an implementing partner. Made for high-quality search, Smart enables dogs to operate in dense vegetation areas without a leash. It has the potential to speed up mine detection.
Heiman said Apopo has had a good long-term partnership with CMAC, with their first collaboration focused on mine detection rats training programme before the launch of the Smart dog training programme in Kampong Chhnang province in 2017.
He said Apopo has highly skilled dog experts who are scouting and selecting high-quality search dogs from Europe before bringing them to Cambodia, where the dogs will go through six to eight months of training together with CMAC dog trainers.
“These dogs are integrated into CMAC’s existing capacity and are monitored closely by CMAC management. We are very much looking forward to continuing developing the Smart operational setup with CMAC and we hope to enlarge this capacity in Cambodia in the near future,” Heiman said.
Ratana said CMAC had been deploying mine-sniffing dogs for demining activities since 1999. The dogs, he said, have detected mines on some 78sq km, leading to the destruction of nearly 20,000 UXOs.
In recognition of the mine-sniffing dogs’ contributions to social development, Ratana said CMAC has made efforts to boost public awareness by sharing knowledge and experience surrounding their demining operations.
The aim, he said, is to make the public appreciate the worthiness of dogs and discourage consumption of their meat.