Harshwardhan Zala's drone carries a bomb that can blow up landmines once it finds them. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
Harshwardhan Zala's drone carries a bomb that can blow up landmines once it finds them. (Photo Credit: Getty Images)

The Mission for this Teen’s Drone: Locate and Destroy Landmines

A childhood fancy with robots led Harshwardhan Zala, 15, on an inventive path that resulted in the design for a drone that could detect and detonate landmines.

Raised in the western Indian city of Ahmedabad by his accountant father Pradhyumal Zala and his homemaker mom Nisha, Zala is still getting used to the attention he’s drawing from armed forces in a couple of countries who want him to perfect his prototype drone. Not far behind are angel investors and venture capitalists who see commercial potential in his drone. Meanwhile, he divides his 18-hour day between his home lab, preparing for his next academic pursuit of an engineering diploma, and all-paid trips to the U.S., France and Korea to collect awards and other honors.

Zala has a simple goal: “I want to run a campaign to destroy all the landmines around the world and I want to sign agreements with all governments.” It is an ambitious and some would say commendable one. According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, these explosive devices, which are placed underground or on the ground often to thwart enemy forces, are designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a person – whether it is a soldier or a child. A landmine can lie dormant for years and explode when an unsuspecting person steps in its path. The nonprofit organization CARE claims that 26,000 people a year or 70 people a day become victims of landmines, including hundreds of thousands of children who are severely disabled.

A Trip to Silicon Valley

Zala made his first robotic device when he was all of 10 years old. That was a “line follower and edge avoider robot,” now common in do-it-yourself robotic kits, called so because it “follows” a set line and “avoids edges” by sensing any absence of surface below it. When he was 12, he founded a group called Robosoft with friends, with the idea of using that as a startup to develop robots.

The big turning point came in July 2015 when Zala saw a YouTube video of soldiers in Afghanistan getting blown up by landmines. Disturbed by that, he developed a drone that could remotely detonate landmines and save lives. Made of carbon fiber, the battery-operated triangular device measuring 700 mm on each side can fly nonstop for 52 minutes. He tested it on two landmine replicas that he placed below the ground in a field near his house, although he didn’t use a real detonator.

The landmine-seeking drone, for which Zala has applied for a patent, sends out waves that cover an eight-square-meter area while flying two feet above the surface. The waves detect the landmines and communicate their location with a base station. The drone also carries a bomb that can be used to destroy the landmine.

In January 2016, Zala participated in Maker Fest, an event held in his city that is part of a larger program to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship in India founded by Asha Jadeja, a prominent Silicon Valley-based angel investor. Impressed by his drone prototype, Jadeja invited Zala to an all-paid trip to Silicon Valley funded by the Rajeev Circle Fellowship. The fellowship is named for Jadeja’s late husband Rajeev Motwani, a Stanford University computer science professor who was an early mentor to Google founders Larry Page and Sergei Brin and PayPal, among other technology startups.

In that Silicon Valley trip in May 2016, Zala also visited Google’s Palo Alto headquarters along with other Rajeev Circle fellows. He says he didn’t get to meet or talk with any Google executives, but that he was fired up sufficiently to turn entrepreneur. By September that year, he had formed Aerobotics 7 in Ahmedabad to pursue his drone invention. It is set up as a 60-40 limited liability partnership between his father and mother; he cannot legally own any stock as he is still under 18 years of age.

His next big booster came in May 2017, when he was named one of the winners of the Billion Acts Hero award set up by the PeaceJam Foundation, a nonprofit based in Arvada, Colo., that aims to empower young leaders in promoting world peace. “Harshwardhan designed a smart solution in which drones can not only detect but also defuse landmines on war fields, saving many lives in the process,” says PeaceJam in a release. PeaceJam invited him to Paris this June for the award. That is among the 15-odd awards that he has won for his invention in the last year or so. Others include the first prize at the Vibrant Science Summit in Ahmedabad in May 2016 and the Young Achievers Award 2017 from the P.A. Inamdar Institute in Pune, India.

Disproving the Naysayers

The drone kept Zala busy in many ways after that. Security forces in India such as Central Police Reserve Force and its Rapid Action Force wing invited him to demonstrate his drone. They want him to further develop his invention and want to use it in some terrorist-heavy parts of India to defuse landmines. He says they want him to deliver 50 drones in the first phase, and expects to get them ready in the next two or three months. He hasn’t put a price tag on them as yet, but expects them to cost Rs. 5 lakh each (approx. $7,700 USD)

The South Korean military has also shown interest and had invited him to Seoul in July 2017 for meetings. He came back with two contracts and a Memorandum of Understanding (agreement between parties) meant to help him perfect his drone; specific orders for drones are some time away, he reveals.

Several investors emailed him expressing interest in Zala’s project, but he has put all of those on the back burner. Asha Jadeja too seemed interested in investing but has not made any commitment as yet, he says. A rough estimate for start-up capital is $10 million, he adds.

Zala believes that he is the only teen entrepreneur in his space; Massoud Hassani, an Afghan native settled in the Netherlands, has also developed a drone to detect and detonate landmines called Maine Kafon.

Despite all the attention he has garnered, Zala seems grounded. He acknowledges that his pursuit of robots and drones has meant he’s not a top student in school, and that he needs to find the proper school-work-life balance before he pursues his longer-range dream of studying at Harvard University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the U.S. For now, a modest diploma from the Government Polytechnic in Ahmedabad, where he has enrolled, will do.

Zala recalls how some teachers and friends at Sarvodaya Vidya Mandir, his school in Ahmedabad, did not exactly encourage him in his early days as a budding inventor. They told him that all his inventive energy will end with his drone and advised him to equip himself for a regular job someplace. “They told me, ‘It’s enough; you cannot do more,’ and so I created my mission statement as ‘We Never Stop,’” he says. That is the signature line with his profile on his company website, which is still in beta form with fictitious numbers of projects won and revenues earned.

Conversation Starters

Do you consider Harshwardhan Zala's drone an important invention? Why or why not?

One of our KWHS summer ambassadors wanted to better understand why militaries are interested in Zala's drone. Do they plan to use it to detect enemy landmines? What questions do you have after reading this article? Post them in the Comment section of this article and we will find the answers!

What is the Rajeev Circle Fellowship and how has it helped Harshwardhan Zala? Have you benefited from a similar type of scholarship? Share your story in the Comment section of this article.

34 thoughts on “The Mission for this Teen’s Drone: Locate and Destroy Landmines

  1. This article has brought to life the amazing story and accomplishments of Zala, who I think is probably one of the greatest entrepreneurs of my generation.

    I am awe struck and inspired by what Zala has been able to accomplish all within the age of 15. His ability to start with a childhood fancy, dream big, connect the dots, come up with an innovative product, use it to tackle a complex issue, and gather international attention and recognition for his efforts, are truly inspirational.

    His ability to persevere in the face of adversity by disproving his naysayers and turning negative energy into a fuel that flames his passions are remarkable. For all his accomplishments, he is also a grounded person.

    In my opinion, he embodies what true entrepreneurship is all about – the ability to come up with new ideas and turn them into new products that benefit humanity in a positive way.

    This article has not only inspired me to think big but it has also given me a blueprint on how to become an impactful entrepreneur in my own right and tackle complex problems. This article has further opened my eyes and Zala, the master entrepreneur, has now become a role model for me to emulate.

    Like Zala, I am also a teenager, an innovator, and an entrepreneur at heart. I have founded a company called Wise Street Capital and have created a new financial product called Wise401(k)® that will solve our nation’s retirement savings crisis. Like Zala, I have also filed for a patent for my invention.

    Reaching this far has not been easy. What started as a simple idea while seeing my parents struggle with saving for retirement has blossomed into a full blown financial product that will help millions of workers in the US. I was able to achieve this by staying true to my mission of revolutionizing the field of personal finance.

    Zala also struck another chord in me by proving that you do not have to be an adult to solve huge national or international problems. Even teens can make a difference!

    Like Zala, I also dream of studying at one of the top universities in the US to gain deeper knowledge that will help me unlock the many mysteries of finance.

    After reading this article, I suddenly realized that by making some slight tweaks to my Wise401(k)® product, I can take it to countries outside of the US. This way, I can help not only the hard working people in the US but also the entire world. I may only be a teen, but I now realize that I too can make a significant positive difference to the lives of people all over the world.

    The article has also made me think about filing an international patent for my invention. I am now truly inspired and fired up to revolutionize the world of personal finance in way that will be of great benefit to others!

    1. I agree one hundred percent about everything you just said his will to show people what he can do is inspiring. I wish I had that ability to show people what I can bring to the table.

    2. I agree with everything Rohit is stating about this article. It is amazing that this kid is only 15 years old and is already doing something that is changing and helping the world. It is crazy that this kid is doing something amazing just with a drone that is locating and destroying landmines.

  2. Really very good innovation and very potential to be developed. I really salute. Hopefully can go forward until later. Thanks for this information.

  3. For me, there are two kinds of innovation. One is that you totally create something new. Another one is that you combine two exist things, and this combination is a new thing. Zala combined two things successfully. This is a necessary innovation. As I know, many people died because of landmines. Most of these fatal weapons were created during wars; however, the landmines were not totally eliminated after the war. Zala’s innovation will save many lives.

    It is hard to say what military will do with this innovation in the future. Probably, they will use it to detect enemy landmines. If they do so, Zala’s dream will be harder to realize.

    I am a leader of the robotics club in our high school, and I have been working on drones for five years. I love sharing my trip with my drones which can give people a new angle to see the world. I also want to do something with my drone. This innovation gives me a direction to my future drone project.

    1. I agree with you that this drone is a necessary innovation. Hundreds of people are dying a day because of landmines that governments never diffused after wars. This drone will save thousands of people from accidental deaths. The military will eventually use these drones in future wars to come.

      1. Yes, I also agree that this drone is a necessary innovation. Landmines can be deadly and they can be placed anywhere in the world. Nobody knows where the landmines are exactly. Around 26,000 people are killed because of landmines. Harshwardhan Zala made this drone because he doesn’t want more people to constantly be killed by landmines. His drone detects landmines and destroys them with a bomb located on the drone.

  4. I think the kid has a high potential in helping people with this stuff.
    This drown can help a lot in the military,I think.
    The kid should pursue his dream and work hard, then he can make his dream a reality.

    1. I agree the drone can help the military because they will be able to check for landmines remotely and not have to worry about risking their lives and going in blind. I also believe that the idea is beneficial globally and his aspirations are very noble and peaceful.

  5. I agree with Zala that the invention of this drone to be sold and given to other countries governments is a good thing. With the death and injuries of people everyday it is an outstanding number I had never even heard about until I read this article. Land mines are a dangerous thing that should not be made in a world were there is so much violence. They cause that many more deaths so if they hadn’t been made or there was a drone such as Zala is creating to stop the use of them. For these reasons I believe that the construction and use of the drone are necessary for safety.

  6. I think Harshwardhan Zala’s drone is an amazing invention and could save many lives in war, as before said in the post an average of 70 people a day die to land mines, and I think this number could be greatly decreased with this invention. The drone isn’t too big and it has a good battery life considering it can clear areas much faster than someone walking with a mine detector. Technology to detect mines already exist, but they are bulky and you have to walk with it, with this drone an army can simply deploy it and fly trough the path that they will go to certify there are no mines, much safer and faster.

  7. Zala is truly inspiration to many young inventors out there that feel like they need more out there in the world too start doing the things this kid is doing at such a young age for example saving countless lives with this single invention and winning many medals along they way as well as having many countries attempt to purchase these drones and “many more to come” as Zala would say.

  8. First off Zala is a amazing person. I admire what he did by making that drone. I have some questions though. What do his parents think of his success? I know my parent would be so impressed. Second question, How long did it take him to make the drone? It really amazing that countries are reaching out to him for his product. I really crazy that some adults can’t do this type of thing. It’s sort of like that show “Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader.” Apparently Zala will beat everyone. Major respect to Zala and what he has done. And good luck in the future Zala.

  9. I hope this guy idea save as many lives as possible because his idea is excellent for saving people lives, in my opinion Zala is very smart because he just has 15 years old he already invented this drone that detect landmines and destroy all landmines the drone detects I mean that’s amazing and I am 14 years old and I don’t have idea even how to cook. I hope Zala project make a change to the world and save all lives as possible,this project will save a lot of people in the Army.(Zala has a great heart because he invented this drone to save lives).

  10. Zala’s invention is more than important to me, it is amazing, and a must for military around then world. These mine eliminator drones are the next big thing in military safety worldwide and extremely important in terms of innovation for the future. Zala is very gifted and has a talent that not many people have at such a young age. Zala is already in the process of building and improving a revolutionary drone, imagine what he will be capable of creating in the future.

  11. I believe that this is a amazing product with limitless potential, and that its truly inspiring that someone so young of age has created what can potentially be a game changer not only in the market, but considering war strategies. Although he has made it so far in the industry, many organizations and founding groups have helped him along the way. One of these groups is the Rajeev Circle Fellowship whom had assisted him by providing further knowledge on the subject. This invention is definitely an important that I feel needs a chance in the industry.

  12. Yes, I consider Harshwardhan Zala’s drone an important invention because his invention has the potential to save many lives, and it can help armies that are trying to stop terrorism.

  13. Harshwardhan Zala is a revolutionary invention that will safe many lives. In wars, many soldiers have to risk their lives by crossing open fields to reach their objective. One of the most common environments in wars are deserts, these deserts make the visibility of soldiers almost null when there are sandstorms, also the sand makes almost impossible to locate any land mine. By making this drone, Zala helps the soldiers to locate every land mine that is in their way, this will decrease a lot the deaths at the wars. Zala is making a great contribution to the world.

  14. I consider his invention an important one. His invention could save many lives and cause less problems in the world for people. I would be very calm if I knew that there was a drone looking out for landmines and helping to get rid of them and not let me or my family or innocent random people get near it.

  15. I think Zala’s invention has the potential to save many lives, and that he should work on other innovative ideas that have potential to change or save people’s lives. Zala, if you’re reading this great job.

  16. I consider Zala’s invention important because it has the potential of stopping many deaths of innocent and young people who happen to step on these without even knowing what they had just done. It also has the potential of not causing so many military casualties and maybe just end the deaths from land mines in total.

  17. Zala is a genius for making this creation. He is 15 years old and made a drone that can save the life of many people. In this article it says landmines each day affect 70 people. It also says in the article kids become disabled because of landmines malfunction. This number can go lower from this invention. This invention can also help our army when they are trying to stop our enemies from causing an act of terrorism.

  18. Do you consider Harshwardhan Zala’s drone an important invention? Why or why not?
    While the invention seems to be pretty useful during combat and terrorist attack defense, it does not cover all of the ways in which people could loose their lives. I acknowledge that it is a huge advance in technology and Terrorist defense, I do not see the invention as the most important factor of ground combat. While other factors such as tracking enemies and future terror attacks are more important I see that ground defense is also a huge factor, but not as important as tracking terror attacks.

  19. I think Harshwardhan Zala’s drone invention will be very important because it will save so many people. The drone will be able to detect mines in terrorist lands for soldiers to survive. It will be very helpful in war. It will also save civilians from terrorist-filled cities.

  20. His invention is a seriously important contribution Every year many people die from unsuspected landmines and this could totally be a fantastic way to put an end to these terrible deaths.

  21. Zala is truly an inspiration to new entrepreneurs that want to make the world a better place and want to create something innovative that can make a difference.
    His product is something that no one has seen before, and maybe they didn’t realize that was so important until now, but now this drone may become something fundamental for all the governments. This drone will not only make a difference for the armies that are fighting battles, but also for people that live in this places that are exposed to landmines everyday.
    Really hope to hear more about the progress in his invention or in future ones Zala takes part in.

  22. I think that it is really cool that this kid can build these bomb drones and they are a big help to other countriees so we can keep everyone safe. I like how he spends 12 hours a day working on his drones and preparing his next invention. I like how his mom and dad support him all the way to he is really lucky

  23. Not many people can say they have invented something that will solve a lot of countries’ problems, but Harshwardhan Zala certainly can. At only 15, this young man has already accomplished more than most adults do in their lifetime, and is not even close to starting his own adult life. His invention is innovative and effective and will save thousands of lives. It is truly astounding that someone so young could create something so helpful and something that is so complex beyond his years and education. Personally, I do not think I could even tell you how fly a drone, let alone create one that finds and detonates landmines. Zala says this, “I want to run a campaign to destroy all the landmines around the world and I want to sign agreements with all governments.” It is crazy to think how young he is and how he is already thinking about creating peace between every government in the world. If Harshwardhan Zala does not get a Nobel Peace Prize in the future, I will be shocked.

  24. Yes, I consider Zala’s drone is an important invention because his drone can detect and detonate landmines in any place whether in the battlefield or somewhere else, with this drone, it can save the lives of many people. The military has a strong interest in zalas drone, and wants him to perfect it and maybe one day use it in the battlefield and detect landmines. The Rajeev Circle Fellowship is a fellowship that helped Zala travel to an all-expense paid trip to Silicon Valley.

  25. This article has brought light to a amazing product that can be further developed to help the army but could also harm us. This product can truly be amazing is finished and sold to the government saving many lives out in the fields. The only bad aspect i see is that if the other countries gt their hands on such technology they could use it against us, also making all of that money invested in mines almost useless. But otherwise this is a great product that should be finished and sold to the government.

  26. Do you consider Harshwardhan Zala’s drone an important invention? Why or why not?
    I do consider his invention important. This invention can help save lives, and I strongly believe that and invention that can save even one life is important.

    One of our KWHS summer ambassadors wanted to better understand why militaries are interested in Zala’s drone. Do they plan to use it to detect enemy landmines? What questions do you have after reading this article? Post them in the Comment section of this article and we will find the answers!
    Will this drone be sold commercially or would you have to personally buy it from the company?

    What is the Rajeev Circle Fellowship and how has it helped Harshwardhan Zala? Have you benefited from a similar type of scholarship? Share your story in the Comment section of this article.
    Rajeeve Circle Fellowship is a company that is designed to create, mentor and empower young entrepreneurs from the developing world and have them be linked closely to the Silicon Valley. It has helped Harshwardhan Zala by paying his trips to visit the best Silicon Valley businesses.

  27. 1. I consider Zala’s invention to be something that the global population can benefit from because of the fact that 26,000 people a year die by landmine casualties. With a flying machine that detonates landmines, the amount of deaths by landmines should drastically decrease.

    2. Militaries should definitely consider using the portable aerobatic detonator as a precautionary measure when stepping onto a field of battle. A question I have is: Won’t it be easy for terrorists to shoot down the drone? How will it manage to stay in the air? Is it going to blend in with the sky?

    3. Rajeeve Circle Fellowship is a company that is meant to encourage young developers to do the nearly impossible, to go out of the comfort zone. This company helps Zala because it pays for all of his visits to remote and local businesses.

  28. Harshwardhan Zala’s drone is a very important invention because it can help save lives and destroy landmines around the world.
    Yes, the military does want to use the drone to detect enemy landmines. The military wants to use it to destroy any landmines they can find to prevent people from dying, but also to find landmines that their enemies may have put to kill different governments.
    Why do governments put landmines out in the world to kill people?
    Rajeev Circle Fellowship is named after a late husband, a Stanford computer science professor and Google executive. It helped Zala by giving him the experience to visit silicon valley and learn new things.

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