Rodents with hi-tech backpack being trained to save lives

Rodents with hi-tech backpack being trained to save lives
Rodents with hi-tech backpack being trained to save lives. Image: Vitalii Hulai/

Belgian nonprofit APOPO plans to put Giant African Rats called ¨HeroRATs¨ to help find humans in disaster situations 

Rodents will be put on search and rescue duties, if the Belgian nonprofit APOPO is successful in training them to perform the task. According to a report from Euronews on Friday, November 11, the organisation which is named after an acronym from Dutch which stands for “Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling” (Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development), claims they have already trained rats as well as dogs to do the task.  

The rescue rats, which the nonprofit calls “HeroRATs” are capable of sniffing out landmines as well as detecting any outbreaks of tuberculosis, the report states. “Our rats may live in captivity for up to 8 to 10 years, which means that even after training, which takes nine months to a year, they will have a long working future ahead of them”, says Dr Donna Kean, the lead researcher on the project. The organization says that due to their size, agility and heightened sense of smell, rats could be a valuable asset in the case of a search and rescue operation.  

The rats being used on the trail are a species known as the African Giant Pouched Rats. Weighing up to around 1.5 kg, these rats can be trained like dogs. According to the report, each one of them will also be carrying a multipurpose backpack which is being developed by a team of engineers from Eindhoven University of Technology. Each of the backpacks will be equipped with a video camera, microphone, and speaker for two-way communication, as well as a gadget for monitoring the rat’s whereabouts, the report adds.  

“The rat pulls a handle that’s hanging around at its neck and can remotely let us know when they’ve found a potential victim,” said Dr Kean. She also added that the organisation plans to move them further to Turkey for additional training trials with the Turkish search and rescue.  

If their experiments are successful, APOPO may begin operational trials in which the “HeroRATs” will be mobilized in the event of a natural disaster across the world.

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