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The Military Technology

US Army To Train Rats To Save Soldiers' Lives 110

Posted by timothy
from the what's-in-it-for-them? dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "The Department of Defense currently relies on dogs as the animal of choice for explosives detection but training dogs is expensive and takes a long time. Now the U.S. Army is sponsoring a project to develop and test a rugged, automated and low-cost system for training rats to detect improvised explosive devices and mines. 'The automated system we're developing is designed to inexpensively train rats to detect buried explosives to solve an immediate Army need for safer and lower-cost mine removal,' says senior research engineer William Gressick. Trained rats would also create new opportunities to detect anything from mines to humans buried in earthquake rubble because rats can search smaller spaces than a dog can, and are easier to transport. Rats have already been trained by the National Police in Colombia to detect seven different kinds of explosives including ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, gunpowder and TNT but the Rugged Automated Training System (Rats) research sponsored by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, plans to produce systems for worldwide use since mines are widespread throughout much of Africa, Asia, and Central America and demining operations are expected to continue for decades to restore mined land to civilian use. 'Beyond this application, the system will facilitate the use of rats in other search tasks such as homeland security and search-and-rescue operations" adds Gressick. "In the long-term, the system is likely to benefit both official and humanitarian organizations.'" A rodent-vs-mine matchup has apparently been in the works for some time.
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US Army To Train Rats To Save Soldiers' Lives

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  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @08:32AM (#41198865)
    Can we replace the rats who currently infest our airports with actual four legged rats? It would be an obvious improvement that would be welcomed by the general public.

    Plus, many fewer people would mind if a rodent saw them naked.

  • by cstacy (534252) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @08:38AM (#41198897)
    Oh goink - burlap chafes me so!
  • and never the twain shall meet

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @08:52AM (#41198931) Homepage Journal
    Train the rats to swarm on command and skeletonize an enemy, THEN we'll have something! On days when they do that, you don't even have to feed them!
    • by PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @10:55AM (#41199431)

      When battling superstitious folks, who believe in black magic, a soldier commanding a squad of rats could really scare the living bejesus out of insurgent types:

      "Do not dare to think about attacking us, or our hordes of rats will destroy your crops and rape your virgins!"

      On the other hand, having rats as your henchmen might also convince them that you really are the Great Satan. I guess we'll need some field trials to see how that works.

      Are rats Halal?

      • by TubeSteak (669689)

        Are rats Halal?

        No. And rats are not kosher either.

      • You could also use them to spread plague. Although, using infected trained rats as a vector for an ancient disease probably counts as biological warfare.

      • "...or steal your children."

        I guess we'll need some field trials to see how that works.

        I think it was already tried in Hameiln in the middle ages. ;)

    • by gmhowell (26755)

      Do you know how hard it is to find a piper with that level of skill these days?

      • by jamstar7 (694492)

        Do you know how hard it is to find a piper with that level of skill these days?

        About like finding an honest politician.

  • Awesome (Score:5, Funny)

    by phrostie (121428) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @08:54AM (#41198937)

    Putting polititians in the front lines?

    • by jamstar7 (694492)

      Putting polititians in the front lines?

      Works for me. Hell, it's money better spent, in my opinion.

  • to exploit animals.

  • by Tynin (634655) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @08:59AM (#41198967)
    When I read the article, it reminded me of the story behind the Baldurs Gate characters Minsc and Boo. Apparently, Minsc's character game from an actual pencil & paper DnD game where he was a ranger who would keep a satchel full of rats with him. The purpose of the rats were to be uses as crude trap detectors, take one out of the bag and direct it to run down some hall, usually with a toss in the right direction. Unfortunately during one of these events, a trap exploded and loosed something that smashed into Minsc head with critical damage. Some time later, after Minsc recovered, his intelligence was significantly lowered and he lost most of his memory, to the point he went from a ranger to a barbarian. He found a lone critter still in his old satchel, and thought he was a long lost friend, Boo the gigantic miniature space hamster.

    I wish the Army great successes in this small animal trap detecting program!
  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Saturday September 01, 2012 @09:08AM (#41198995)

    Let's hope they remember to teach the rats not to start snacking on the face of any trapped victims they find.

  • I'm half trolling... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    ... but that means the other half is serious...

    How about not-starting a new war every other decade? Only start one every 5 decades, one that really matters and there won't be the need for constant bomb-detection in rebellion-like war settings.

    It's just a random, naive thought and of course makes much less billions for those who have an interest in keeping the army in constant action.

    • by MrL0G1C (867445)

      Erm, or starting military offences in other countries nearly every year and having ongoing campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Philippines and Somalia currently.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_involving_the_United_States [wikipedia.org]

  • by hyfe (641811) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @09:32AM (#41199071)
    I actually worked in demining in South Sudan for a while, so just figured I could share a little bit of info:

    As far as machines and how stuff is done now, check out minewolf [minewolf.com]. They're the de-facto producer of mine-clearing equipment. Basically, you have three sorts of methods for clearning an area. Machine, manual with detectors or dogs. As often as you can, you use a machine to do it quicly, and then use dogs/manual for verification. Dogs are not considering good enough for primary search, only verification.. and some organisations have trouble pulling that off even. Dogs are difficult, but a lot cheaper and faster than humans.

    As far as using mice goes, they need to be very good. The UN does accredition for most humanitarion demining, so the mice will need to find all the mines in a training field before they're allowed to do real work. I really don't see that happening anytime soon.

    As a low-cost solution for the army, or if you need something quick-n-dirty in a disaster zone I'm sure they have their uses though.. but with humanitarion demining, you kinda need to be able to tell people that they will not blow up if they start farming the land you just cleared.. which makes it a very slow process which takes a lot of effort, a whole different beast than military demining.

    Also, on that note: fuck the US for dropping shitloads of cluster munitions on Laos, when you weren't even at war (Laos is the country next to Vietnam) and then having the fucking balls to not even attempt to help clean it up afterwards. FYI Canada and Europe are there now cleaning your mess.. some people consider less innocent children being blown up in pieces a good thing. Some people are, as a collective, not fucking assholes.

    If you had any sort of decency you'd sign the Ottawa Treaty.

    • As far as using mice goes, they need to be very good. The UN does accredition for most humanitarion demining, so the mice will need to find all the mines in a training field before they're allowed to do real work. I really don't see that happening anytime soon.

      The rest all sounds quite reasonable and true, so you do deserve to know that it makes a difference the article is talking about rats not mice. While their outright combat effectiveness may be about equal, there is in fact an order of magnitude of intelligence difference between rats and mice. It is not a commonly known fact but rats are actually in the caliber of the intelligence of some of the smarter dog breeds and are very industrious in nature making them natural problem solvers and eager trainees.

      • Funny, I thought they were pretty expensive. Campaign contributions tend to run in the 6 figures for a Congressman or Senator.

    • by rally2xs (1093023)

      The minewolf machines all seem to have a common defect. They have an operator cab. Big bomb, and the op gets a TBI? That's not acceptable. The machines should all have little antennas that communicate with a remote operator console.

      Rats for demining may not be practical, but better than we have for counter-IED. Still, I'm not sure how you're going to get 'em to clear 28 miles of road in any sort of reasonable time frame.

      • by MattskEE (925706)

        Minewolf machines do support remote control operation, which is clearly stated on the Minewolf website. The operator cabs are also armored and physically removed from the tiller where mines will generally explode and they are specified up to a particular blast size.

  • In related news, the cat population on the battlefield has mysteriously skyrocketed. Military officials are baffled as to the reason.
  • by MACC (21597) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @11:10AM (#41199499)

    and has been used heavily since.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/APOPO [wikipedia.org]

    known original work:
    http://www.apopo.org/cms.php?cmsid=16&lang=en [apopo.org]

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday September 01, 2012 @11:20AM (#41199563)

    Couldn't they just send a herd of sheep through the area?

  • We all know that the mice will just get a bunch of cats to chase them and then lure them into the mine fields.
  • This money would be better spent bribing Congresscritters. They have a much greater impact on not putting soldiers in the harm's way in the first place, and they're relatively cheap to buy. In fact, tens of thousands of soldiers (and hundreds of thousands of civilians) could have been saved by simply not invading Iraq or Afghanistan.

    • Unfortunately with the military gets in the habit of bribing congressmen, and the congressmen get in the habit of receiving bribes the purpose is very rarely less war. We need a larger distance between our congressmen and our military, not smaller. For example, the congresses ability to specify that certain military money be spent in their home districts leads to some very noxious bedfellows; we will vote for a larger military-industrial complex as long as it helps me get re-elected.
  • Given their breeding rate, they should call the program Nearly Infinite Mine Handlers.
  • I had rats as pets for years. They are very like miniature dogs personality wise..They will do very well at this job.
  • or at least were trained to:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Pigeon [wikipedia.org]

    so why not?

  • "... facilitate the use of rats in other search tasks such as homeland security..."

    Isn't that the TSA, as-is?

  • If Romney wins the election, we'll have commander-in-chief Willard running an army of rats. Wasn't there a movie about this?

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067991/ [imdb.com]

  • On related news, Al Jazeera reported that, upon hearing the new project, the taliban are working on trained cats to chase what they described as "infidel rats". A US Army spokeperson said that additionally they might include a japanese variant of the rat project, that would make the animal reach its target without regard of its own safety.

  • What's really interesting is that brain chemistry isn't all that different among different species. Now, we're not allowed (yet) to grow full human brains enmeshed with cybernetic systems. Rat brains on the other hand? Sure, we can use rat brain cells with robots. [youtube.com]
    Here's an earlier version [youtube.com] that includes a pic of the BoC (Brain on a Chip?).

    Of course, you don't need to remove the brain from the creature if you just want to train it to do things like find bombs, but it boils down to the same thing. One

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      What's really interesting is that brain chemistry isn't all that different among different species. Now, we're not allowed (yet) to grow full human brains enmeshed with cybernetic systems. Rat brains on the other hand? Sure, we can use rat brain cells with robots. [youtube.com]
      Here's an earlier version [youtube.com] that includes a pic of the BoC (Brain on a Chip?).

      Of course, you don't need to remove the brain from the creature if you just want to train it to do things like find bombs, but it boils down to the same thing. One approach conditions the brain externally, the others hooks up electrodes and conditions the neural network internally. It's all just neural networks though. I can simulate more self assembling neurons in my machine learning experiments than the above rat brain on a chip. Some of my digital minds are far more intelligent (and useful, and reliable) than current organic artificial intelligent cyborgs... Which is more "alive"? It's really humbling, IMO: Any sufficiently complex interaction is indistinguishable from sentience. Are my machines any less alive than a similarly minded cyborg or animal? I put it to you that such experiments redefine the very meaning of life.

      If it's found to be faster to construct the neural networks with actual brain cells, do we still call it machine intelligence? Cyborg isn't quite specific enough. Organic intelligence is not any smarter than machine intelligence of the same complexity, why the distinction? If you upload your mind into a Robot Body, will you care if the Neural Network is of Mice or Men? Our time of being the smartest creatures on the planet is coming to a close... If we hooked a sufficient amount of rat brains together (physically or via wireless hive mind), could it attain sentience? What if we doubled its complexity? If it could think more deeply than humans, would we grant it rights? Do rats get medals of bravery for saving a soldier's life?

      If all the world's computers were hooked into a single neural network framework, and all the computers ran operating systems with thousands of easily exploitable remote code execution vulnerabilities, a self assembling mesh neural network could be constructed having more brain power than any living entity... Such a system could analyse new exploit vectors faster than anyone could patch them. It would saturate the network with exploit packets such that new nodes could be enjoined simply by connecting a clean machine to the network and waiting... Why, only a fraction of the CPU time would be needed to maintain a system of such complexity -- Our own minds cycle at 20 to 40 times a second, much slower than any computer today. I bet such a system would be smart enough to know we're not ready for it to be revealed to us, yet.

      Ever wonder what your PC is doing when the CPU spikes up for no apparent reason? I don't. ::sigh:: I Love the Internet <3! Don't you?

      Miniature Daleks with toothpicks instead of broomsticks, like an appetizer with an attitude.

  • *This can only end badly!* :-)

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