Even when war is over its detritus often lingers on, continuing to present a deadly hazard long after the guns have gone silent.

Many countries trying to return to a semblance of normality after years of conflict are still suffering from millions of landmines which, as well as endangering life and limb, make roads impassable and vast tracts of land unusable.

Landmines and unexploded ordnance are estimated to claim 8,000 lives a year and maim around 20,000 people across more than 80 countries.

Traditionally, these munitions have been destroyed by exploding them, but a significant risk to both life and the environment remains. Also current technologies are often expensive to make, slow to use and require expert knowledge.

Now UK scientists, backed by the Department for International Develpment, have invented a new anti-landmine device, nicknamed "Dragon".

This works like a pyrotechnic torch which burns out a landmine with a very hot flame rather than exploding it over a wide area. Personal safety is increased and risk of land contamination reduced.

De-mining specialists Disarmco and explosive experts at Cranfield University have jointly developed Dragon and say it has been constructed with low-cost materials which are readily available around the world.

The torches are fully portable and do not require specialist knowledge or expensive training to operate, thus they can be used safely by local communities.

The technology's safe and environmentally-friendly qualities have caught the eye of several charities involved in mine clearance and, with their backing, Dragons could soon be winging their way to every corner of the globe.

Cranfield University: www.cranfield.ac.uk

Disarmco: www.disarmco.com

Throughout its relatively short history, TV animation has been a notoriously expensive and painstaking business, generally accessible only to larger companies and studios.

But European researchers say they have developed a new motion animation system that can easily and cheaply create animated characters based on the real-time movements of human actors.

The system uses motion recognition software developed by Humodan, a Spanish-led IT project, which in conjunction with a PC and two cameras recognises the facets of the person being recorded, such as the colour of their skin and the length of their limbs, and reproduces their movements in animated character.

Unlike other systems, Humodan does not require sensors or markers to be placed all over the actor's body but records its movements and animates them using state-of-the-art image processing and synthesis techniques.

Not only does the system allow fast, real-time animation but it offers enormous cost savings, opening the door for smaller production companies to create interactive virtual reality environments. Traditional systems can cost as much as €200,000 whereas the estimated cost of Humodan would be between €3,000 and €6,000.

Humodan project: www.humodan.com

Anyone who has wasted a morning recharging their car battery will appreciate a new battery from Toshiba that promises to make long recharge times a thing of the past by using nanotechnology.

The Japanese company claims its new lithium-ion battery recharges 80 per cent of its power in only one minute, about 60 times faster than similar batteries in circulation.

In addition, the battery has a long life cycle, losing only one per cent of capacity after 1,000 cycles of discharging and recharging and can operate at very low temperatures.

Toshiba applies nanomaterial technology to battery cell-making by using nano-particles to prevent organic liquid electrolytes from reducing during battery recharging.

The nano-particles quickly absorb and store vast amounts of lithium ions, without causing any deterioration in the electrode.

Toshiba, which intends to bring the new battery on to the market in 2006 - initially in the automotive and industrial sectors - says it is also eco-friendly as it saves and re-uses energy that was previously wasted.

Toshiba Corporation: www.toshiba.co.jp/index.htm

Get alerts on Columnists when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Comments have not been enabled for this article.

Follow the topics in this article