Interview with Richard Yim

We interviewed Richard Yim to see what drives him to pursue his venture, The Landmine Boys:

I was born in Cambodia and lived there for the first 13 years of my life. Like all Cambodian children, I was told never to wander off or to hike. This is because Cambodia has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the most heavily landmined countries in the world, with an estimated eight to 10 million landmines. It was very sad to see the effects landmines had on people: I would see maimed people on every street corner and it even affected some of my family members.  It always seemed to me that the current solution – manual retrieval and defusal – just didn’t work. It’s very dangerous for the people involved.

It became a kind of personal vendetta or mission for me to find a better solution to rid the world of landmines. That was why I chose the program I did at UWaterloo – mechanical engineering. I knew that the right solution was out there; we just needed to find it.

What’s the problem you are solving?

Landmines are easy to make and place (costing as little as $3 US each) but challenging, expensive, and highly dangerous to remove. In the summer of 2015, as part of our fourth-year design course, I joined with a group of other engineers who were passionate about this problem. We talked about a lot of ideas as we considered possible ways to neutralize landmines — exploding them, having a machine dissemble them, building a machine that could collect and explode landmines in a controlled explosion, etc. We took the best parts of each of these ideas to develop our idea into a prototype that would safely defuse landmines. Rather than building the coolest robot, we knew our design had to be something that would work for the NGOs that would use it. It had to be something that fit their needs, solving their pain points, as well as something that was cost-effective, repairable and easy to manufacture. After working on this and consulting with others in the field, we feel confident that we have developed the solution to this problem. Right now, we are in the process of building a second defusal prototype with plans to do testing before the end of 2016 on a live landmine. We are also hoping to travel to Cambodia to develop relationships with NGOs there, lay the groundwork and logistics for testing, and to raise funds there. We are also moving into developing a retrieval system. We are also hard at work getting in contact with individuals, government officials, and businesses who are potential partners in this project. What keeps you up at night? We are actually very confident in our solution but we have some challenges that definitely keep us up at night. Our solution takes money to develop and to manufacture prototypes as well as to ship and test the product. I really don’t want finances to be the reason we can’t succeed in this initiative. And as the CEO, I want to raise enough money so the team doesn’t have to worry at all about funds as they get the prototype out. We need to raise an estimated$100,000-\$150,000 to get us to the point where the excavation and defusion processes are working together.

We really want to see our technology used to defuse an actual landmine — we can’t wait to see that happen.

We also want to get people talking about landmines so that the government will put this issue on the table again as an important one in the world, and one that they would support. Right now, it isn’t top of mind for many people or government officials and to us, that’s sad and something we are constantly working to change.

- by Susan Fish

See the short documentary, Shaping the World: The Story of Richard Yim and The Landmine Boys: