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back to article Rats with GPS backpacks prepare to sniff out landmines

Scientists in the US have developed a novel system for detecting landmines by training rats equipped with GPS and wireless rucksacks to sniff out explosives and map them for destruction. A team of boffins at Bucknell University has trained the Rattus recruits to identify the chemicals that seep into the ground from land mines, …

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Deduction of a safe path through mines

aka ratnav.

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A better way?

Have the USA considered that a better way to eliminate landmines might be not to put the bloody things there in the first place?

And maybe even sign the treaty banning them?

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Re: A better way?

No, because this way they get twice the payoff- First to sell the mines and then to sell the cleanup. It's what our US cousins would call a 'win-win'.

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Re: A better way?

and leave the market to europeans ?

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Mushroom

Re: A better way?

If the international community would allow the Korean border to be an exception, then they would...

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Anonymous Coward

Having completed my Army anti-mine/IED training ...

The problem is not the US. And especially not the UK, any more (I'm British Army). As another poster said (and was downvoted for!) the US would sign the Ottawa Convention if an exception was made for the Korean border. People won't agree to that because the US is EEVIL and North Korea is poor and misunderstood. So US-bashing politics is costing the lives of third-world farmers.

The scariest mines I've seen are Italian - entirely plastic casing, anti-tilt/lift switches, and sold to almost anyone.

The biggest problem is that mines are laid by people who don't care. When we use mines we mark the area with signs and map it carefully (as required by common sense and international law). Some modern mines even have time-based deactivation systems. However, when some countries lay mines, they just chuck them down randomly and forget about them - thus the ongoing threat from Soviet mines in Afghanistan, or mines in Cambodia.

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Re: A better way?

You appear to be under the impression that the USA is responsible for the placement of the majority of landmines still in existence.

How amusing.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: A better way?

Even US Presidents aren't dumb enough to sign the convention.

Land mines are a useful defencive weapon system that enables you to hold ground with much less manpower and equipment than you would otherwise have to use.

The vast quantity of land mines manufactured and deployed around Sarajevo by the defenders, is a key reason why Srebrenica is the main massacre (circa 8,000) from the civil war, rather than a Sarajevo massacre involving tens of thousands.

Even if all countries sign, and abibe by the convention, land mines are cheap and easy to manufacture, and the usual suspects will carry on planting mines in farmers fields and village access roads when they want to terrorise the locals in to doing what the local pond scum leader/organisation want.

So if you don't mind having your own troops killed along with any civilians they might be protecting, beause they cant't hold a defensive perimeter (or bug**ing off and leaving the locals to die), then by all means sign up to take land mines out of your armoury.

In the mean time, the rest of us can carry on finding effective ways of detecting and removing the devices once they are no longer needed.

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Coat

Hmmmm...

Too bad the entire system is defeated by one man and a flute.

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Anonymous Coward

Are you pondering what I am pondering?

I think so Brain, but if they hung from balloons, wouldn't they be called air-mines?

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Alert

Send them over! Cambodia, Laos and VietNam need them, NOW.

THIRTY-SEVEN YEARS after the Americans left VietNam following their loss of the America War in VietNam, people and animals are STILL being killed and wounded by munitions dropped by the Americans.

Remember, Laos was not active in that war. The US just dropped their bombs all over the Plain of Jars. Even today thousands of hectares remain unsafe.

It is heart wrenching to see pre-school aged children missing parts of their bodies that are happening as a result of explosions TODAY.

American bombing often wasn't targetted, either.

Their bombers used to fly in from the Philippines, drop bombs on Hai Phong -- a major generating areas - then overfly Ha Noi dropping a few more mementos on the way.

They then flew towards Thailand crossing over Son La Province and Laos. If the American bombers had any bombs left, they would dump them over Son La Province in VietNam and Laos.

For readers who haven't had the privilege of visiting VietNam, Son La Province is farming country with magnificent mountains. All those hundreds of small 'ponds' you see are actually bomb craters. There are also many unexploded bombs.

The worst bomb these days is the cluster bomb whch scatter small bomblets, some as small as a large golf-ball, that sit there waiting for a foot, or a child, to disturb them. Many are plastic-encased and have extended lives measured in decades.

That's why I say bring the rats over.

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Anonymous Coward

Umm

"This is something that could drop out of the sky and give you everything you need to train rodents to sniff out land mines, even if the people who are using it can't read or write"

Question: If you just drop a box of rats into someplace where people can't read or write, how are they going to know what to do with it? All they will know is someone just sent them a container of snacks and a laptop.

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Re: Umm

in some areas rats are popular food, so... instead of mine detector they are indeed a juicy snack.

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Happy

Re: Umm

Mmmmmm. Tender rat, well fed, healthy and hand reared.

........and a free gps, battery and little tranmitter module with each to sell on the next door market stall.

What could possibly go wrong?

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Anonymous Coward

So, they drop the rats and monitor the signal to see when it stops?

I didn't think rats were heavy enough.

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TRT
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They could always use seagulls.

Mine. Mine. Mine mine mine. Mine. MINE!

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WDX
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Fail

The APOPO organisation has been using rats to find landmines since 2003 in Mozambique, Thailand and Gaza. They also have trained rats to sniff out tuberculosis.

Check out their website, you can even adopt a rat.

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Re: Fail

Indeed as WDX noted APOPO and their hero rats are already doing this.

http://www.apopo.org/home.php

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FAIL

Oh dear...

I guess they forgot the best way to clear mine fields; Saturation bombing.

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Anonymous Coward

Project Pigeon (Orcon)

Now that was a good idea-- blow up both an enemy boat and a pigeon at the same time! A virtuous endeavor if there ever was one, I'm still cleaning up after the filthy flying rats invaded my attic.

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Joke

Its not the rats..

Ok, everyone seems to scared to say this aloud but we all know its not the rats. They are probably betting that where animals are put into possible hazardous situations the members of PETA will soon follow.

KaBLAM!! "Ok, its safe to pass now, ignore the parachute guys!".

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Don't get the economics?

Surely it's better to drop pre-trained rats in? If they are trained by someone who actually knows what they are doing surely they will have a higher success rate?

The training software should be limited to regional Center not airdrops.

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Paris Hilton

Is not this called Pavlovian conditioning? ??

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_conditioning#Pavlov.27s_experiment

How is what the guys are doing any different?

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Silver badge

Re: Is not this called Pavlovian conditioning? ??

I don't think it is Pavlovian conditioning. It's Skinnerian, or operant conditioning. Pavlovian conditioning alone would only make rats expect food when they were dumped next to mines. The conditioning that encourages them to find the mines seems to be training.

Pavlovian, or classic conditioning starts with an unconditioned stimulus-response pair, such as salivating when exposed to a meaty taste. An unrelated stimulus, such as a bell, is introduced alongside the true stimulus. When conditioning is complete the bell elicits the salivation without the meaty taste. The order of events remains stimulus-then-response.

Skinner's conditioning associates a reward or punishment (known as positive or negative reinforcement) with a pattern of behaviour. As training proceeds, the reinforced pattern becomes more likely to occur, and, in due course, so do behaviours that tend to lead to it.

caveat this is 40-year-old knowledge, acquired at a time when my guiding principle was to do as little work as possible, so it may not be entirely reliable.

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Devil

And when the last mine is successfully removed, mission shift.

Starting with a mixer with some fun lovin' fleas, Xenopsylla cheopis.

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How is that new?

Well, the "high tech" GPS thingy put on the rats may be. But rats have been trained at mine sniffing for quite some time. They are led on leashes to find the mines, then the mines are removed. It's quite efficient to clear mine fields and not to just find a safe path through the field, which will only be useful if you have GPS and the tracking information. To find (or create) a safe path you could just send untrained pigs, dogs or whatever pulling a drum behind...

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Intead of rats

They should send in an aardvark instead of rats:

www.aardvarkclearmine.com

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Why GPS?

Why not just release a swarm of rats into a field...then just listen for a loud noise...and look for the cloud(s) of smoke.

Loud noise...cloud of smoke...no more mine.

(Patent to be filed momentarily)

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Sci-Fi reference...

http://www.baenebooks.com/p-336-rats-bats-and-vats.aspx

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