Monday, June 11, 2012

Parachuting Rodent Skinner Squad Training to Deploy to Sniff Out Landmines

"Some people think we are sending off rats to blow up mines, and that's absolutely not the case. The process is similar to how bomb-sniffing dogs are trained. We need to train the rats to regard that odor as significant by associating it with a food reward." Myers and his team trained rats to associate a vibration in the backpack with a food reward for good behavior, until the rat learns to seek out the vibration even after tidbits stopped coming. They are then trained to associate the vibration with finding and moving around the odor of explosive chemicals in the soil. The technique to train in this way uses legendary American behaviorist B.F Skinner's ideas about applying positive and negative reinforcement to train animal subjects. During WWII, Skinner developed a pigeon-guided missile system, with the bird trained to peck at the target, aiming a Pelican guided bomb at German shipping. But the project was dropped, a decision that Winston Churchill's chief scientific advisor described as regrettable. more

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