Last updated June 28th 2015
Animals are known for their impressive ability to respond to external stimuli, and mice are no exception. While some may consider the furry creatures to be vermin that spread diseases, one Israeli company is debunking that perspective by harnessing the traits that make rodents particularly extraordinary. It turns out, these small mammals can sniff out explosives at airport security checkpoints and save travelers and authorities time and money.
Mice are currently trained by Israeli company X-Test to detect explosives at airports. These specially trained mice will be carried in cages to different checkpoints in order to discreetly smell people and their possessions, alerting officials when they sense a potentially lethal substance.
This unique system was developed by Israeli company X-Test, a member of The Tamar Group established in 1998 by former Israel Defense Forces officers to detect and neutralize explosives. Now, the company is expanding into uncharted territories by utilizing mice’s keen sense of smell to detect drugs, explosives and foreign substances at border crossings and airports.
“You don’t have to take them for a walk”
In line with Pavlov’s classical conditioning, the rodents are trained (or conditioned) to identify and signal when they come across an unfamiliar odor. The man behind this latest development, former bomb-disposal expert Yuval Amsterdam, even claims the mice are more effective in distinguishing smells than explosive-detecting canines. “They’re as good as dogs as far as their ability to smell, but they’re smaller and easier to train,” Amsterdam told The Independent. “They’re cheap, and you don’t have to take them for a walk. Once they are trained, they become bio-sensors.”
X-Test’s system is also designed to train mice with biological sensors to track patterns in heart rating, breathing, and other factors. Their reactions are then recorded by a computer, which analyzes the bio-data and alerts inspectors to potential suspects. When the mice smell an unfamiliar scent, they signal the security inspector to further investigate the matter. So, if the mice start going crazy in their cage, the security officer will know they’re on to something.
While no mice have yet been officially enlisted to safeguard our airports, their detection capabilities can be be utilized in identifying any contraband and foreign substances that have a scent: explosives, drugs, and even smuggled ivory!