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The Military Technology

Trained Rats Map Minefields With GPS 103

Posted by samzenpus
from the all-explosions-great-and-small dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Believe it or not, but the Department of Defense is paying psychologists to train rats to find mines and circle around them. By attaching little GPS backpacks and supplying a laptop with software that looks for the 'circling around' signature, the DOD hopes its project will allow the release of platoons of rats near suspected minefields so that the laptop software creates a detailed map of where all the mines are located automatically. Not sure if they plan on picking up the rats afterward, but they do assure us that the rats are too lightweight to set off the mines!"
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Trained Rats Map Minefields With GPS

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  • Boom (Score:5, Funny)

    by Niris (1443675) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @07:51PM (#40251371)
    Best minesweeper mod ever.
  • by XPeter (1429763) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @07:54PM (#40251395) Homepage

    I'd love to see those fat little fuckers get blown up to pieces.

    Maybe the DoD can come take some from the subway?

  • Hawks, coyotes, and other predators are, but I guess the theory is that rats are so cheap they don't care if they lose some.

  • So now all mines will be made with rat bait.....

    • They have trained the rats to cluster around a mine.

      Your idea to "defeat" this is to make it more likely rats will find the mine to cluster around.

      Genius?

    • The Anti-personal mines will probably come with some anti-rat measures, like a not-too-fast rat poison (you don't want the rat corpse to mark the mine if you are the one that lays it).
  • by OnceWas (187243) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @07:59PM (#40251423)

    It's not crazy, and it's already being done, by organization like HeroRATs - http://www.apopo.org/cms.php?cmsid=107 [apopo.org]. They train African giant pouched rats to detect mines. They're also using them to detect tuberculosis, in human spit. Yuck, but way cool.

  • Nothing New (Score:5, Informative)

    by Nethemas the Great (909900) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:06PM (#40251473)
    Nothing new [google.com] They've been using rats for landmine detection in Africa for quite some time now.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:11PM (#40251507)

    What goes peck-peck-bang?

    A chicken in a minefield!

    Sorry, it just seemed appropriate...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:12PM (#40251527)

    TFA says they train the rat to recognize the odor of the explosives in the soil. Wouldn't it be easy to enclose the explosive in a hermetically sealed wrapper to keep any such odor in the mine?

    Also, wouldn't it be better to train lawyers for this? We have more of them than rats, and they're not as cute and the soldiers will become less attached to them, in case they do set off some of the mines.

    • TFA says they train the rat to recognize the odor of the explosives in the soil. Wouldn't it be easy to enclose the explosive in a hermetically sealed wrapper to keep any such odor in the mine?

      Pot-sniffing dogs regularly detect pot that's been sealed in one bag, that sealed in a second bag, and that in a waterproof plastic container. Small volatile compounds penetrate through solid material, and explosives are chock-full of small volatile compounds. Plus, the factories where these are made have those same compounds all over everything, so all the materials used in construction have trace compounds all over the insides and outsides.

  • by Grayhand (2610049) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:15PM (#40251559)
    A few bags of Reese's Pieces spread around the field could be an effective way to confuse the rats. I haven't heard of rats being trained to ignore food when they are working like dogs. Another option would be if the mine could be triggered by a rat digging coat it with food smells. You loose a mine but you take out an expensive trained rat.
    • The fake baits might work if the rat can't be trained to ignore them, but false positives are not the issue when clearing mines. Neither is relative attrition - in combat, mine clearance already is very costly (including in casualties) and only done when the tactical advantage is worth it; in humanitarian mine clearing, the relative attrition is beside the point anyway, as there is no enemy.

      (Also, the reason landmines are not designed to be triggered by small animals is that most places are full of small an

      • Wouldn't the obvious thing for a mine layer to do be to use the explosive itself as fake bait? Presumablly these rats are sniffing out traces that leak out of the mines so blanketing the whole area with a low concentration of the stuff should prevent the enemy finding where the actual mines are.

    • by Immerman (2627577)

      How would that work? Rat sees food, rat eats food, rat continues on. If food is rare it's not an issue, if food is common very quickly rat is full and gets back to work. It's not like it's going to circle the food or take a nap on it, it'll just be a detour on an already random path. Poison might work, but it's not that hard to train a dog not to eat found food, I doubt a rat would be any more difficult (during training all found food has been pre-treated to be very unpleasant when eaten).

      As for blowing

    • A few bags of Reese's Pieces spread around the field could be an effective way to confuse the rats. I haven't heard of rats being trained to ignore food when they are working like dogs. Another option would be if the mine could be triggered by a rat digging coat it with food smells. You loose a mine but you take out an expensive trained rat.

      You could still use this technique in non wartime situations to find mines left from previous engagements. It's brilliant, regardless if it's new or old hat now, and if it saves a few children's legs I'm all for it.

    • by Ollabelle (980205)
      That won't work because there's lots of wild animals that would smell the food as well. You lose a mine, and your entire minefield, in short order.
  • Just get cheaper GPS units and make a note of when it stops sending data.

  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:31PM (#40251723)
    Surely we could find an even lower organism to locate these mines? I mean, what have the rats ever done to us. Maybe we can use PETA members instead. They are always trying to save animals, let's see them put their money where their mouths are. Besides, I think we're better off having a bunch of rats than animal rights activists. At least the rats are more useful.
    • by Bodhammer (559311)
      Especially the naked ones!

      Announcer for "Rat Chicks", a reality show.
      "Pamela Anderson is bending over to take a look. Even after being with Tommy Lee, she has a great looking... BOOM!"
    • Re:Those poor rats (Score:4, Informative)

      by hedgemage (934558) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:54PM (#40251937)
      Using animals to do the dangerous work of finding mines is INHUMANE! I suggest we do what most war-torn developing countries do and let children find them.
      (this is the troll post that guarantees me a ticket to hell, isn't it?)
    • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @09:51PM (#40252349)

      Initially, they tried using conservatives, but it was just too hard to get one near a conflict zone.

      • by Nidi62 (1525137)
        Really? I know several that were or currently are in a war zone.
        • by nfras (313241)

          That would be because conservatives have a proven track record of turning lots of places into war zones. Purely coincidence.

          • by Nidi62 (1525137)
            Kind of hard to see how these people I know turned the places into war zones, seeing as how they only went to these places after they were already war zones.....
            • by Dog-Cow (21281)

              It's also impossible to see your sense of humor.

              Because you don't have one.

              I mean, seriously. What the hell were you thinking when you wrote that post?

          • Woodrow Wilson (leader of Progressive Movement and Democrat) got the U.S. involved in World War I. Franklin Delano Roosevelt (D) got the U.S. into World War II, and authorized hydrogen bombs to be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. John F. Kennedy (D) got us into Vietnam (and authorized the bungled Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba). Lyndon Baines Johnson (D) escalated the conflict in Vietnam. Hmm, looks like your left-wing meme is breaking down.
        • by Jawnn (445279)

          Really? I know several that were or currently are in a war zone.

          Fair enough. So then, you'd agree that it's just the loud-mouthed chicken-hawk type conservatives that seem to find their way in to politics rather than serving honorably. Yes?

          • by Nidi62 (1525137)

            Really? I know several that were or currently are in a war zone.

            Fair enough. So then, you'd agree that it's just the loud-mouthed chicken-hawk type conservatives that seem to find their way in to politics rather than serving honorably. Yes?

            No. I don't consider a lot of those in politics to be conservative at all.

            • by JDevers (83155)

              Agreed. Most politicians that label themselves conservatives are good salesmen who pander to the religious majority and old people. Most politicians that label themselves liberals are good salesmen who pander to minorities and the young. When it is all said and done, they are all salesmen who are trying to sell the same thing (a giant pile of horseshit) to different people.

  • by dido (9125) <dido@impe r i u m .ph> on Thursday June 07, 2012 @08:58PM (#40251971)

    For GPS to be useful for detecting mines in this way you'd need to have accuracy of the order of half a meter. I can barely get accuracy of less than ten meters with ordinary GPS. I suppose this is possible to do with differential GPS but I have to ask how long does it take to lock, and how well does it work in minefields that have obstructions from direct line of sight. Just having a building or a tree in the way causes accuracy to drop off significantly, and may cause loss of GPS signal altogether. I would have thought that they'd use some other means of position measurment that is not subject to such limitations.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      This kind of gps uses a base station and is accurate to cm, not meters.

      • by ghn (2469034)
        Any of you who replied that 'military gps' is super accurate.. any reference to your claims? Not denying, just genuinely interested in knowing more about this.
    • You don't even need differential GPS. You don't need the exact coordinates of the mine, you just need to get to its real location. Take the GPS location from the rat, then move until your own GPS location (almost) matches that location.
      • by n7ytd (230708)

        You don't even need differential GPS. You don't need the exact coordinates of the mine, you just need to get to its real location. Take the GPS location from the rat, then move until your own GPS location (almost) matches that location.

        GPS error isn't like that; the error in the location of the receiver isn't a constant off-by-this-many-meters-in-this-direction error, but rather an amount of uncertainty. If the rat's GPS receiver is accurate to 10 meters, that means that the coordinates shown by the receiver are at the center of a circle with a radius of 10 meters. The actual position is somewhere within the area inclosed by that circle.

        Taking a second GPS receiver with the same accuracy means that now you have two circles that you can

  • to just round up a ton of rats (from say New York) and realease them in the minefield. No training necassary and get rid of all the mines at the same time.
  • by Tolvor (579446) on Thursday June 07, 2012 @10:50PM (#40252747)

    I've always wondered if there was a *simple* method to deactivate minefields cheaply (Keep It Simple and Straightfoward). I've wondered whether a cloth sack filled with 150 pounds of dirt (weight discriminating trigger), and dragged across a minefield with a long length of rope. If a mine goes off you lost one sack and need to shovel more dirt. Repeat as necessary.

    I realize that this will probably not work since military contractors have spent a lot of time ensuring that the mines are 'smart'. However I think that there has to be a simple solution. Getting legions of highly trained rats to run through a minefield (and not set off the mines) does not fit the criteria of simple nor effective.

    The solution of getting a mine deactivation specialist (or whatever the technical term the military gives it) to inch thru the minefield with a wire probe moving the soil at a careful handful at time isn't the solution either. There is simply too many mines, too few removal specialist, and it takes too long.

    Fortunately for me I live in a country that for now does not have minefields (for now). I believe that minefields are evil. They persist for years, sometimes even decades, often target non-combatants, and are indiscriminate. There has to be a simpler solution than minefield rats. This sounds too much like bad movie science/comedy, like laser-armed sharks, or penguins armed with rocket launchers.

    • don't know what it costs, But this is a British tool its called a python basically something similar to a firemans hose packed with explosive. fired out across the mine field by a rocket.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0eeaou2L2sI&feature=related [youtube.com]

      It isn't designed to clear a mine field, just quickly clear a path through a minefield, according to another video it was first used in Afghanistan fun video if you like explosions

    • by dwye (1127395)

      First, the rats do not set off mines, or your minefield would self-clear too quickly from common field mice, squirrels, etc.

      As far as clearing a minefield without rats, there was something in WWII called a Flail Tank, that had a long boom with a rotating cylinder at the end. On the cylinder were lengths of chain that beat the ground to trigger the mines. The exploding mine usually didn't harm the chains or the cylinder, so it wasn't difficult to clear an entire minefield once its edges were roughly known.

    • by splutty (43475)

      Iran and Iraq just used POWs and 'undesirables', sometimes kids. Very efficient, although possibly not entirely in accordance to the Geneva convention...

  • Where the hell can I buy one of those tiny laptops they're giving out to the mine detector rats?!
  • by Anonymous Coward

    You know, there are a lot of lawyers who are having trouble finding jobs... you could be hiring them to do this, and then you don't have to worry about the rats' handlers feeling bad about the rats potentially getting hurt if one of them somehow trips a mine...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    ...just ask the Cook Islands...

  • Anyone else think of the movie 'Wanted' when they read this?

  • Since PETA would likley have a serious problem with this I suggest that instead of rats we use members of PETA!

  • See! See! I told my parents that the Secret of NIMH [imdb.com] wasn't just a fictional piece! Trained smart rats with backpacks CAN help us humans... even after we took their rosebush fort!

  • Why not teach them to carry people across minefields? :)

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