Billions of dollars have been lost, but science has yet to find a technology that can hear like a dog's nose

We humans are warlike species, and in our invasions of neighboring countries to compete for territory and seek economic advantage, we mobilized the mercenary force of nature: the wild animals. object. In particular, the horse has been a symbol of military power for thousands of years. Historian Morris Rossabi writes of the Mongol conquest as follows:

“Mobility, the ability to surprise are the words to describe the army led by Genghis Khan and the mighty generals, and the horse is the success or failure of that aggressive offensive strategy. Needless to say, we can compare the horse to the transcontinental cruise missile of the thirteenth century .”

By World War I, things were not much different. Historian David Edgerton writes: ” The UK’s ability to make full use of the world horse market was at the core of its military might .”

Billions of dollars have been lost, but science has yet to find a technology that can hear like a dog's nose
Horses have been a symbol of military power for thousands of years.

In modern times, horses are no longer favored as before, but still appear on many occasions in great wars; In 2001, when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. Elite Forces sat on horseback, directing lasers to guide cruise missiles. Over time, horses were gradually replaced by armored vehicles, by tanks, satellites and airplanes.

But in the military, there is still another 4-legged species that is still faithfully serving humans, that is the dog . Statistics for 2016 show that there are 1,740 barking personnel in the US military. At Lackland Air Force Base located in San Antonio, the force stationed there bred dogs themselves – mainly two breeds of German shepherd and Belgian Malinois.

The military life of dogs is no different from humans, there will be many dogs eliminated during training. The remaining birds after the first round of testing will have to learn to obey for a period of 4-7 months, before entering the stage of learning their own tasks: guarding the camp, ambushing the enemy or using hearing to detect substances. explode. When assigned specific tasks, the dog has to meet even higher requirements and the number of dogs rejected increases. The US military estimates that to get 100 dogs ready for battle, they have to train 200 dogs.

Billions of dollars have been lost, but science has yet to find a technology that can hear like a dog's nose
To get 100 dogs ready for battle, they had to train 200 dogs.

The 100 children standing in the ranks of the soldiers are all worthy warriors, and there are always stories that make the friendship between the soldier and the dog stronger.

Before entering a suspicious building, paratrooper Thomas always sends his Malinois dog in to scout first. On a particularly intense day of war, Thomas entered a seemingly abandoned house in search of a place to heal his comrades’ wounds. Hearing a strange noise in the next room, he approached to investigate and found himself looking directly at the enemy’s gun muzzle.

Right at the moment the enemy pulled the trigger, the dog rushed to grab the enemy’s neck, causing him to shoot in the wrong direction. Thomas survived to tell such a story.

The moment facing death changed Thomas’s mind. Every time he joins a new mission, he brings along the brave dog whenever he can. “ There are times when people tell me, ‘This mission doesn’t require a dog,’ and I’ll say, ‘It does. Are you a soldier? You’re not a soldier, you know. I’ll still take the dog with me .’”

In addition to the ability to guard and attack targets, the US military also relies heavily on dogs to detect explosives . It is estimated that a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than the average human’s . Researchers have spent billions of dollars, but so far, they have not found any artificial scent sensing device comparable to a dog’s nose.

Unlike metal detectors, which detect bombs and mines, dogs can sniff out the scent traces of non-metallic substances, such as fertilizers or household chemicals that are often Can be used to make bombs. In a battlefield filled with plastic cans of homemade explosives, dogs have become the most modern bomb detectors that man possesses.

Billions of dollars have been lost, but science has yet to find a technology that can hear like a dog's nose
Dogs used for training are mainly two species of German shepherd and Belgian Malinois.

Scientists have been trying to replace the dog’s nose for years, but to no avail. Since 1997, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has spent million working on a device called Dog’s Nose, which will detect mines without harming the four-legged species. lovable. Such a long development history, but according to former DARPA director Regina Dugan, mine detection technology has not progressed much since World War II until now.

The only mine detectors that the government gives to combat troops are a metal detector and a pointed stick ,” wrote Ms. Dugan in 2000. You can also guess the main purpose of the stick, is poke into the ground to see if there might be landmines buried underneath.

The results of the first studies were not very encouraging. The polymer coated tubes are the best they have, they work great in the sterile lab environment but are useless on the battlefield. When this device and a mine-detecting dog clashed in 2001 at Auburn University, it was measured that the dog’s nose was up to 10 times more effective than the newly developed device.

In another experiment around the same time, when DARPA put volunteers to test the device in Missouri, the results were… beyond expectations: the machine was so sensitive that it assumed the smell of leaves and earth was also explosive.

A decade later, in 2010, the senior commander of the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Response Organization (JIEDDO) had to admit defeat: despite spending billion on research into spy drones, equipment and devices. intercepting radio signals, and sensors mounted on planes to bolster the military’s demining capabilities, none of them could outrun the dog. In testing, modern equipment detected about half of the bombs before it exploded, while the dog team quickly located 80% of the bombs.

Billions of dollars have been lost, but science has yet to find a technology that can hear like a dog's nose
It is estimated that a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more sensitive than the average human’s.

The latest explosives detectors can detect even the smallest traces of chemicals, a capability that goes beyond a dog’s nose. However, it is still limited, as explained by Matthew Staymates, a mechanical engineer and aerodynamics expert working at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST): “ This machine needs plugged in, and then there was a huge amount of facilities, gas, vacuum pumps – and also having to bring samples to put in the machine.”

Such machines have a land for martial arts at airports, where passengers must pass a test before boarding the plane; and researchers don’t waste time creating those bulky machines, we still learn a lot from dogs to improve current technology. For example, Mr. Staymates used a 3D printer to create a prosthetic nose, modeled after Bubbles’ nose – a Labrador dog.

The result was more or less effective, with a funny look: Mr. Staymates created a fake nose, which was attached to the head of an explosive detector. This prosthetic nose can smell like a dog’s nose, inhaling and exhaling a few times per second instead of just sucking in air and analyzing the ingredients like previous devices.

The researchers discovered a paradox: this new way of sucking up air even longer distances before. “ About nine out of ten tries, you have no idea where the bomb smell is coming from ,” explains Mr. Staymates. ” So you’re going to want to intelligently sample the air, and it’s the mechanism of the dog’s nose that has helped us perfect the technology .”

But not optimistic, because the dog’s nose is still much better than those bulky systems; One of the most remarkable points, is that dogs are still living creatures, able to react to real-world situations, not like an inanimate machine. Many scientists know that, and try to improve the abilities of dogs, not try to replace this lovely creature.

In 2017, a research team from the Lincoln Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology successfully developed a new spectrometer, about the size of a wardrobe, capable of detecting traces of chemicals in the air with The accuracy is comparable to that of a dog’s nose. It is not only sensitive but also very fast, detecting explosives in about a second. But this is not a system that will replace dogs, but a tool to help train dogs better.

The team tested the dog’s explosive detection capabilities and the new machine in parallel. And the spectrometer has found that the errors dogs make – misidentifying empty cans as explosives – turned out not to be at fault, because these boxes were once used to store landmines. As a result, the dog trainer will know where the 4-legged soldier “person” is wrong, and reward and punish appropriately to improve the dog’s ability to detect explosives.

Many places wanted to apply this machine to replace dogs, but MIT refused. According to researcher Roderick Kunz, who is responsible for developing this system: “ We felt that the new tool should be used to improve the world’s best mine detector, which is the dog. ” .