SITIS Archives - Topic Details
Program:  STTR
Topic Num:  A11a-T019 (Army)
Title:  Rugged Automated Training System
Research & Technical Areas:  Human Systems, Weapons

Acquisition Program:  
  Objective:  The objective of this STTR is to develop a machine that will reliably train small animals to detect explosives or other compounds of interest and will provide an objective unbiased measurement of the animal’s sensitivity and accuracy.
  Description:  The Army is engaged in extensive humanitarian demining efforts. Demining is often necessary to restore farm land to agricultural use, and to enable societies to stabilize after war. Although dogs are the most commonly used animal for mine detection, it has been demonstrated that other animals can reliably smell mines, and smaller animals have advantages over dogs in some situations. The cost of training animals to detect mines is primarily due to the human labor involved. In addition, the actual training of animals to detect mines remains as much of an art as a science. It is desirable to 1) have an automated training system that reduces the human labor cost, and 2) have an automated scoring system that objectively measures the animal’s accuracy and sensitivity. Because much of the demining efforts are happening in third world countries with little access to engineering expertise or parts, this system must be rugged, reliable, inexpensive, simple to operate, and easy to fix.

  PHASE I: The investigators will design a system to reliably train small animals to detect mines and to objectively evaluate and score their performance. At the end of phase I they will present detailed plans for this system. Phase I will be evaluated on the basis of the proposed system to effectively train and evaluate small animals, and on cost, ruggedness, reliability, simplicity, and ease of maintaining and repairing the system. The system should be usable by animals up to 7 kg.
  PHASE II: The investigators will build prototype systems and will deliver at least five of these prototypes to locations to be designated by the program manager for field testing. By the end of phase II the investigators will have developed the capability for large scale production of Rugged Automated Training Systems.

  PHASE III DUAL USE APPLICATIONS: The investigators will produce and sell large numbers of these Rugged Automated Training Systems for worldwide use. Mines are widespread throughout much of Africa, Asia, and Central America and demining operations are expected to continue for decades. Finding and removing mines is necessary to restore mined land to civilian use.

  References:  1) Catania, KC, and Remple, FE. 2004. Tactile foveation in the star-nosed mole. Brain Behav Evol 63(1):1-12. 2) Verhagen, R, Weetjens, F, Cox, C., and Weetjens, B. 2006. Rats to the Rescue: Results of the First Tests on a Real Minefield, Journal of Mine Action 9, 2.

Keywords:  mine detection, rats, moles, UXO

Questions and Answers:
Q: What is the primary problem that is to be solved? I see two dominant problems in your solicitation.

1.) Training animals with a cheap portable device that requires minimal human involvement.

2.) Detecting landmines.

Both problems are present, but are independent of one another.
A: Training animals with a cheap rugged device that requires minimal human
involvement is a possible avenue to a solution.
Q: Is separate Army approval for use of animals in research studies required, or will standard Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee approval suffice?
A: Army animal use approval is required. However if the investigators work quickly, Army animal use approval is usually obtained faster than the funds can be awarded; Army animal use approval requirements in most cases does not delay the research. Institutional IRB approval however is required before the animal approval package can be submitted to the Army.

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