Since the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. military has used chickens as chemical weapons sensors, dolphins as mine detectors, and armor-wearing dogs as controllers of unruly crowds. And, generally, two-legged soldiers have been grateful for the four-legged and finned assists.
Members of the insect community, however, have been downright pissed. They hate evil-doers just as much as the next genus. And they’ve been itching to get in on the action.
Luckily, Roland tells us, the little buggers may soon get their chance. Researchers funded by Darpa (of course) are training honey bees to sniff out land mines.
Bees… can be trained in a couple of days to pick up the scent of the explosive in the landmine… When released into a minefield, the bees find their way toward the mines… [They] are too small to detect either with the naked eye or high-resolution video at long ranges. So instead, the team employs a laser emitter that sweeps an area like radar or sonar. When the light hits a bee, it reflects, and sensors are able to tell by the reflection just where the bee is. After sweeping several times, the scientists are able to crunch the data and see statistically where the higher occurrences of bees are located.
In controlled situations, the method is extremely effective: Bees can detect very small traces of explosive vapors with 97% accuracy and are “wrong” — that is, passing over a mine without noticing it — less than 1% of the time.
THERE’S MORE: Animal lovers, be sure to read up on England’s chicken-powered nuke, the Navy’s plan to give sailors the sharks’ electric sensors, one police department’s camera-equipped pooch, and another’s attempt to put a trained monkey on the SWAT team.
AND MORE: Reader DG notes that this “is not a new idea.” Back in 1999, researchers at Sandia National Laboratories were training mine-sniffing bees of their own.
AND MORE: “This reminds me of a funny quote I saw about the use of dolphins, from an Aussie navy guy working with them in clearing Iraq’s Um Qasr harbor,” says Defense Tech pal Peter Singer.
‘Flipper’s fucked, mate. The dolphins have had all this amazing publicity but as soon as they put one in the water it shot through. There’s a war going on and Flipper goes AWOL. If you put one to work in Sydney Harbour it would mark a million things because it can’t tell the difference between a washing machine and a mine. The bottom line, mate, is it’s a fish. It’s also a very smart fish so how do you know it hasn’t just gone off for a feed instead of working and then thought, ‘Hang on, I’d better mark a few things or they won’t give me any fish when I get back.’