Hugh Pickens writes writes: "The Department of Defense currently relies on dogs as the animal of choice for explosives detection but training dogs is expensive and takes a long time. Now the US Army is sponsoring a project to develop and test a rugged, automated and low-cost system for training rats to detect improvised explosive devices and mines. “The automated system we’re developing is designed to inexpensively train rats to detect buried explosives to solve an immediate Army need for safer and lower-cost mine removal,” says senior research engineer William Gressick. Trained rats would also create new opportunities to detect anything from mines to humans buried in earthquake rubble because rats can search smaller spaces than a dog can, and are easier to transport. Rats have already been trained by the National Police in Colombia to detect seven different kinds of explosives including ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, gunpowder and TNT but the Rugged Automated Training System (Rats) research sponsored by the US. Army Research Laboratory, plans to produce systems for worldwide use since mines are widespread throughout much of Africa, Asia, and Central America and demining operations are expected to continue for decades to restore mined land to civilian use. “Beyond this application, the system will facilitate the use of rats in other search tasks such as homeland security and search-and-rescue operations" adds Gressick. "In the long-term, the system is likely to benefit both official and humanitarian organizations.”"