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When Will Bomb-Sniffing Locusts See Action On The Battlefield?

A team at Washington University in St. Louis have discovered a way to use a locust’s nearly 50,000 sensors to detect TNT.
Posted at 6:12 PM, Aug 31, 2020

There may be a new army of bomb detectors hitting the battlefield within the next ten years…. and no… it’s not a machine….. or a dog………

“I know people eat them," Staff Sergeant Travis Rhoad said.

Well it’s not a dish…. 

it is something much, much smaller

the  American locust…. that’s right….. bomb-detecting locusts…

"I think it'd be hard to control a bug versus a dog where we can have them on a leash. But I think if they were able to have it where they could, I think it would definitely help where we could be like a backup. And we have the dogs and it would save dogs and save lives as well,“ Rhoad said.

Air Force Staff Sergeant Travis Rhoad and his partner Chango have worked together for almost a year and specialize in bomb detection

"It's important because if you have convoy or anyone that's going out, we go ahead of them to clear the road. way that way, there's no explosives on the road. Or if they do find one, they can have an alternate route to keep all the other troops safe,” Rhoad said.

A team of scientists at Washington University in St. Louis have discovered a way to use a locust’s nearly 50,000 sensors to detect TNT in controlled environments.

“What we do is we make a small incision between the two antennae to antennae insects on the head sticking, sticking up,”  Biomedical Engineering Professor Barani Raman said.

They attach a chip to the insect’s brain…. so….once the locust senses chemical explosives, its brain sends out certain signals  which are then captured and sent to a main computer. 

"The more difficult challenge is actually what to ensure protecting the animal or the organism here, and ensuring that it goes to the region we are interested in sensing, and making sure that this interface with engineering and biology is functional and consistent on the order of weeks and days and months,” Raman said.

 Raman says they have designed mini backpacks to protect the chip.

“There are advantages and disadvantages for each of them. So we cannot again, behavior is much more difficult to understand at all costs. We don't know whether its the sensors or something else,”  Raman said.    

So how would they compare to a military working dog?

Let’s put it into perspective. Military working dogs can work up to twelve years before retiring. Locusts can live up to a few months.

Dogs are big. These bugs are small, meaning they can fit in spaces this k-9 would not be able to reach.

To train K-9’s, it costs nearly $40,000 per dog and can take more than 100 days.

These insects don’t require training. 

Dogs are easy to control by their handlers.

Locusts are much more unpredictable.

“I think it's a really interesting concept. Obviously, you wouldn't have much of a bond with a cricket. So if anything happened to it, it probably wouldn't have be to hurt versus a dog where we have a bond together and if anything happened to him, I'd definitely be really upset," Sgt. Rhoad said

The office of naval research has awarded over a million dollars in grants to fund professor Raman’s research. But he says they have many years to go before these locusts see any action downrange. Terace Garnier. Newsy. The Pentagon.