Technology: Trained rats to wear backpacks with microphones to rescue earthquake survivors buried in debris
Rats are being trained to be sent into earthquake debris wearing tiny backpacks outfitted with microphones so that rescue teams can talk to survivors. In a strange development, scientists are training rats to rescue people trapped during earthquakes. The innovative project is being worked on by research scientist Dr Donna Kean from Glasgow, Scotland. The rodents are being trained to be sent into earthquake debris wearing tiny backpacks outfitted with microphones so that rescue teams can talk to survivors.
So far, around seven rats have been trained to respond to beeping sounds. At the moment, homemade prototype backpacks containing a microphone are being used, and scientists are sending the rodents into mock debris. Specialist backpacks containing microphones and video gear as well as location trackers will also be created in order to allow rescue teams to communicate with survivors during real earthquakes.
Dr Kean has been based in Morogoro, Tanzania, for one year, working with the non-profit organisation APOPO for a project named “Hero Rats”.
The 33-year-old scientist has studied ecology at Strathclyde University and also holds a PhD at Stirling University. She was fascinated by how quickly rats can learn and be trained and said that it is a misconception that they are unhygienic. Dr Kean described the rodents as “sociable” creatures and said that she believes that the work being done will save lives.
"Rats would be able to get into small spaces to get to victims buried in the rubble. We have not been in a real situation yet, we have got a mock debris site. When we get the new backpacks we will be able to hear from where we are based and where the rat is, inside the debris. We have the potential to speak to victims through the rat,” Dr Kean said.
She revealed that altogether 170 rats are being trained and they will be sent to Turkey, which is prone to earthquakes, to work with a search and rescue team.
The rats are so nimble that they have never set off a landmine and their agility makes them perfect for use in disaster zones. Dr Kean said, “Rats would be able to get into small spaces to get to victims buried in rubble. We have not been in a real situation yet, we have got a mock debris site. When we get the new backpacks we will be able to hear from where we are based and where the rat is, inside the debris. We have the potential to speak to victims through the rat.”
The rodents are trained to respond to a beep, which calls them back to the base.
Dr Kean added, “A colleague is a seamstress, she makes the backpacks, she’s very talented. We are getting custom-made backpacks which will have video recorders, microphones and a location transmitter. It’s quite unusual. They are so agile, they are so good at moving through all kinds of different environments. They are perfect for search and rescue-type work.”
“They can live off anything. They are very good at surviving in different environments which just shows how suitable they are for search and rescue work.”
Dogs have been used for similar purposes but rats have an advantage due to their small size and flexibility. “They are very trainable, the first stage is to train them to come back to base point, they respond to a beep. There is a misconception they are dirty and unhygienic. They are well looked after with us, they are sociable animals. We hope it will be implemented, we are partnered with a search and rescue team in Turkey. It would just be a case of as soon as an earthquake happens, arranging the transport. We are the only organisation working with this species, there are other organisations training dogs. We hope it will save lives, the results are really promising.”
Source: NDTV, Newsweek, Zenger News