VFRAME 3D prints cluster munition replicas to aid Mnemonic’s war crime analysis

Open-source software developer VFRAME has 3D printed replicas of warzone munitions to help investigators at Mnemonic probe potential human rights violations from a distance. 

Utilizing an SLA 3D printer, the VFRAME team have been able to precisely reproduce the illegal cluster bombs allegedly being used in the Syria, Yemen and Sudan conflicts. The highly accurate nature of the models has enabled Mnemonic to use them as a basis for training object detection algorithms, which are capable of identifying weaponry in video footage, and compiling evidence of any atrocities. 

The ‘AO-2.5RT/M’ variant of 3D printed cluster munition replica. Photo via Adam Harvey, VFRAME.

Mnemonic’s campaign for justice

Essentially, Mnemonic is an organization staffed by human rights advocates that digitally document war crimes, then attempt to use the evidence to hold those responsible to account. The group prides itself on being ‘a rapid-response project,’ that captures atrocities before the proof can be wiped away, but this is often difficult to achieve in underdeveloped countries. 

Given that thousands of people lose their lives each year while attempting to document human rights violations as they unfold, Mnemonic has embraced a new suite of digital tools. In particular, archived footage is becoming vital to holding perpetrators to account, but spooling through colossal amounts of video can be a hugely laborious task. 

When it comes to monitoring the use of concealed cluster bombs (which are illegal under the International Convention on Cluster Munitions), the devices are especially difficult to identify using conventional images. While it’s possible to expedite the process by training detection algorithms to flag objects such as munitions, this requires a close-up of the explosive devices. 

However, existing imagery is often low-quality or even biased, depending on where it’s been sourced. To combat these issues, Mnemonic has therefore charged VFRAME with 3D printing replicas, which it can deploy to create enhanced training datasets, capable of definitively identifying where cluster bombs have been used. 

A painted, photographed and annotated AO-2.5RT/M cluster munition replica. Photo via Adam Harvey, VFRAME.

VFRAME’s 3D printed munitions 

In order to create safely photographable munitions, VFRAME used an SLA 3D printer and Formlabs resin to fabricate three inert but highly-accurate forgeries. Each of the different polymer-based models was hollow and lightweight, yet they proved rigid and resistant enough to prevent any loose parts from snapping off during use. 

Once the additive explosives had been post-processed, they were painted or damaged to reflect their real-world appearance, as seen in archived footage. Conventionally, getting up close and tweaking such explosives would require a high level of training and carry inherent risk, but using 3D printing, VFRAME was effectively able to do so risk-free. 

Eventually, the replica devices were photographed, annotated using open-source CVAT software, and fed into an object detection training ‘pipeline,’ yielding an optimized data algorithm. Leveraging the software, the two companies now intend to work together to analyze datasets consisting of millions of videos from Syria and Yemen, and build a case that illegal cluster munitions may have been used there. 

Treating Syria’s munition casualties  

While Mnemonic continues to seek justice for victims in Syria, 3D printing is also being deployed in the country to treat those injured by munitions.

Researchers from the University of Manchester have responded to the need for medical care in Syrian refugee camps by developing 3D printed ‘bone bricks.’ The biodegradable implants could provide a simple and cheap method of repairing broken limbs for doctors treating the wounded in their war-torn homeland. 

Ultimaker has gone one step further, and deployed its systems to 3D print hand prosthetics for Syrians living in a Jordanian refugee camp. The dutch 3D printer manufacturer has donated two of its systems to a fablab there, which aims to address many of the humanitarian challenges being faced by local residents. 

Similarly, UK-based charity Syria Relief has requested funding from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) to provide 3D printed prosthetics for children. Doctors working on the project believe that the need for low-cost limbs in Syria could be addressed with a one-off investment in 3D printers. 

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Featured image shows the ‘AO-2.5RT/M’ cluster munition replica. Photo via VFRAME.