Gadget Freak of the Year Creates a Cheap Mine-Detection Tool

David Prutchi wins the top prize for a Design News Gadget at the Pacific Design and Manufacturing show in February 2017.

Sometimes cool gadgets double as public service equipment. The DOLPi polarimetric camera can help de-mining teams see if mines are hidden in natural terrain. While the mines are not detectable by the naked eye, the DOLPi is designed to detect human-made materials. At the Pacific Design and Manufacturing show in Anaheim, Calif. earlier this month. David Prutchi was awarded the Design News Gadget Freak of the Year for this cool and useful gadget.

Gadget Freak of the Year, DOLPi, polarimetric camera, David Prutchi
The DOLPi polarimetric camera is a Raspberry-Pi based device that lets users see things the naked eye cannot. (Image source: David Prutchi).  

Like many Design News readers, Prutchi tinkers for fun. “As a hobby, I like to do projects that haven’t been done, projects that are different from the norm. I like to do things that involve a little understanding of physics,” Prutchi told Design News. “I’ve been playing with ideas of light and things that you can see with the right light. One of my personal interests is photography and the photography of things we can’t see with our own eyes.”

There are entire wavelengths of light that are invisible to the human eye. Animals and insects have eyes that can filter light and polarize it to help see in the dark or hunt prey. Polarized light oscillates on a single plane, as opposed to getting scattered around like normal sunlight or lamp light.

There are polarization filters available for cameras to enhance or remove certain colors in a shot. Yet these filters are only the tip of the iceberg. If humans could see in polarized light, they would be able to detect things far beyond the capabilities of the naked eye.

For more on vision technology, check out the session, The Next Generation of Intelligent Sensors for Better Visualization, which will be held during Advanced Design & Manufacturing , March 29-30, 2017, in Cleveland. Register today!

Prutchi created a polarimetric camera called the DOLPi and submitted it to the Design News' Gadget Freak in 2016. The DOLPi is an affordable Raspberry Pi-based polarization camera that can be used to see polarized light. Users gain the ability to detect unseen objects like pollutants and hidden explosive devices such as mines. This project was a finalist in the 2015 Hack-A-Day competition.

You can find build instructions and a video showing how the DOLPi in use by clicking here.

Why Raspberry Pi?

Prutchi chose the Raspberry Pi for the camera’s CPU for a number or reasons. “Why Raspberry Pi? Because you can get it anywhere very cheaply. Second, it can produce a metric image,” said Prutchi. “When you’re doing image processing, you acquire pictures at different angels and make a color image with the information that is being collected. The Raspberry Pi has a great CPU. Plus, there are libraries with the capabilities you need in the tool box, and they’re free.”

Building the DOLPi – as opposed to buying a  polarimetric camera – can save de-mining teams many thousands of dollars. “If you buy one of these cameras, it will cost more than $30,000,” said Prutchi. “The DOLPi is in the $100 range, so it can be created by any group around the world very cheaply.”

Prutchi decided early on that he didn’t want to monetize his gadget. His goal is to make is as easily available as possible for de-mining teams. “I’ve received questions from the de-mining team in Columbia that is building one. A number of universities that have approached me to ask if they can buy one. I told them, ‘No, but here are the instructions to build one,’” said Prutchi. “They build them to fly over territory and detect disturbed areas that might point out human intervention. An Italian eye-ware company is interested in developing the DOLPi as a public service for de-mining teams.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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