Global Crisis/Innovation Blog

Fighting Terrorists With Mice: Not a Mickey Mouse Idea

By Shlomo Maital

   The website  http://www.israel21c.org  provides the following vignette, in the annals of Mickey Mouse innovation:  Mickey the terror fighter. 

   Here is the basic idea:  

 Israeli startup Bioexplorers has developed a new and unique way to sniff out terrorists – literally. After years of research, company CEO Eran Lumbroso tells ISRAEL21c, Bioexplorers has hit upon a foolproof, non-invasive and easy method to detect contraband in purses, luggage and even cargo – using mice.  It’s no joke. “Mice have an excellent sense of smell, and they’re relatively easy to train. And they’re easier to use for odor detection than other animals traditionally used for their olfactory capabilities.” Dogs are most often used by security forces to detect drugs and explosives, says Lumbroso, but they generally respond to the directions of their trainer, making their work more of an art than a science. “I was looking for a way to automate and mechanize the training process, so it could be duplicated easily and installed in a variety of settings. And we have been able to achieve that goal using mice.”  Here’s how it works: A person passes through a passageway in which a Bioexplorers system is installed. A fan passes air into a sensor receptor, and delivers it into a chamber with several mice. The mice, having gone through intensive behavioral training, sniff the air. If the odor is one associated with items the mice have been trained to recognize, like drugs or bombs, they move into another chamber – setting off an alarm. Security officers can then move in and stop the appropriate suspect.   “The mice rarely make an error, and the entire procedure is far less invasive or intimidating than the alternatives, like using dogs or X-ray machines,” says Lumbroso. “There’s no radiation, and no concern about being seen naked,” he adds.  The system is appropriate for use in any setting – airports, government buildings, shopping malls. In fact, the company has conducted several tests at sites in Israel to ensure that the sensors work in real situations, including at Tel Aviv’s Azrieli Mall. More than 1,000 people passed through a Bioexplorers sensor – some having been given “suspicious” objects and substances to hold – and the mice made the right call every time, says Lumbroso.  The rodents employed on this security detail are specially raised lab mice, “which are very clean, and there is no chance that they will transfer diseases to humans, since there is no contact between the mice and the people passing through the sensor,” says Lumbroso.  The mice are trained over a period of about two weeks using a patented computerized program based on Skinner-style behavior theory and methods, “which we have tweaked using our own special technology and methodology,” Lumbroso says.

  Lumbroso is a biologist. He’s been working on his idea since 2004.  We can only imagine the kinds of comments he got, when he first proposed his idea.  

Advertisements