For Lorena Cardenas and Iván Pérez at Lemur Studio, industrial design is about more than developing sleek cellphones and making a profit—it’s about finding a way to save lives.
A year ago, Cardenas and Pérez began looking at Colombia’s landmine issue from a design perspective. “We started to think about what we could do as a design studio, as industrial designers, to address this problem,” explains 22-year-old Cardenas. “We weren’t thinking about something that would be the complete and total solution because it’s very difficult, but we wanted to at least help.”
The end result—an insole that alerts the wearer when a landmine is nearby—seems like a pretty good place to start. This product is still in the development stages, but theoretically it would contain a sensor that functions as a metal detector and indicates the location of the landmine on a small radar screen the user wears on his or her wrist.
In a country with the second highest number of landmine victims in the world—second only to Afghanistan—this insole could have a huge impact. Although landmines pose a threat in conflict zones worldwide, they’ve taken a particularly bloody toll in Colombia. Illegal armed groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) have been planting landmines throughout the country for the past 50 years and nobody knows exactly how many are still buried.
According to the Programa Presidencial para la Acción Integral contra Minas Antipersonal, a part of the executive branch dedicated to landmine policy, improvised explosive devices have claimed over 2,000 lives since 1990 and injured close to 8,500 people. Of these victims, nearly 40 percent have been civilians and a quarter of those civilians have been children.
While landmine-detecting equipment is currently only available to military personnel, the Lemur Studio insole could theoretically be sized to fit any shoe, protecting not only soldiers but also civilians. Despite the insole’s lifesaving capabilities, however, Cardenas and Pérez have had trouble finding business partners who can provide the necessary technology and funding to develop a prototype.
So far, the designers have spoken with the Colombian Ministry of Defense and the Israeli government, along with several national companies. Most potential business partners either express interest in buying the finished product, but not in investing in the development stages, or don’t have the necessary technological capabilities.
Pérez says part of the problem is that finding a business partner takes time. “It’s not a process in which [company representatives] call us back the next day and say ok, come here,” he explains. “We’ve been knocking on doors, but this is something that’s not immediate.”
In the absence of investors, the designers’ enthusiasm keeps the project going. “At Lemur we like projects that have to do with social aspects,” Pérez explains. “We always want to help society. Developing a project like this, even if it’s only conceptual, is better than sitting here looking at each other.”
Cardenas adds that even if Lemur Studio isn’t able to develop the finished product and someone else takes their idea, they’ll just be glad this insole is on the market. “If we can’t do it [and someone else does], at least it’s something that will help people.”
In the meantime they’ll keep knocking on doors, hoping that one of those doors leads to someone who understands just how pressing the need for this product is.