Bomb-sniffing mice could be the next big thing in airport security

Summary:A security company in Israel is relying on mice's ultra-sensitive sense of smell to detect hazardous materials.

Forget the drug-sniffing dogs. A security company in Israel has opted to call in the mice when it comes to detecting bombs and other hazardous materials in the airport security line.

BioExplorers has developed a system in which mice are conditioned to react adversely to the odors of target substances such as explosives, drugs, agricultural products, spoiled food, and markers of disease.

The system involves a detection unit that closely resembles the full-body scanners found in airports today. The person walking through the scanner is hit by a small blast of air that is quickly pushed into a chamber containing 8 mice. If the mice smell a potentially hazardous material, they run to the other side of the chamber, indicating the presence of a banned substance. To avoid false positives, the system requires that more than one rodent make the move across the chamber.

Just like dogs, which are often used to sniff out drugs and explosives, mice rely on their super-sensitive sense of smell to detect target materials. Unlike canines, however, the mice don’t require extensive training to act on these olfactory skills.

Initial tests of the detection system performed by BioExplorers have been promising. The company tried out their detector in a Tel Aviv shopping mall and had more than 1,000 people pass through it, 22 of which were wearing concealed dummy explosives. The mice detected all 22 people carrying “explosives” and kept their false positive rate around 0.1 percent.

Image: Duncan Hull/Flickr, Video: BioExplorers

[via The Future of Things]

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Topics: Innovation

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Contributing Editor Sarah Korones is a freelance writer based in New York. She has written for Psychology Today and Boston's Weekly Dig. She holds a degree from Tufts University. Follow her on Twitter.

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