How Rats With Backpack Are Being Trained to Rescue Earthquake Survivors


Scientists who are training rats to save people from under the debris of a building after an earthquake have shared an update about the project. These scientists from Eindhoven University of Technology are training the rats to locate a survivor in a simulated room, pull a switch on their vest to trigger a beeper and then return to base where they are rewarded with a treat, according to a report in CNN. The project, brainchild of Belgian non-profit organisation APOPO, also involves the use of a backpack.

The backpack will be equipped with a video camera, two-way microphone, and location transmitter to help first responders communicate with survivors, the CNN report further said.

The researchers say that the small size of the rodents, excellent sense of smell together with their adventurous spirit makes them the perfect animal to help in such disasters.

“Rats are typically quite curious and like to explore – and that is key for search and rescue,” Donna Kean, a behavioural research scientist and leader of the project, is quoted as saying by CNN.

The researchers started working on the search and rescue project in April 2021 after GEA approached APOPO about the possibility of using rats in such missions.

The training is going on in Tanzania, where Ms Kean is increasing the complexity of training environment. She wants “to make it more like what they might encounter in real life,” according to CNN.

To make it close to reality, the trainers have added industrial sounds like drilling. And according to Ms Kean, the initial results are promising. She added that rats are exposed to many types of sounds, lights and environments since birth since birth and this “habituation process” is proving to be useful.

A few months ago, she had said that the team is planning to train 170 rats and they will be sent to Turkey, which is prone to earthquakes, to work with a search and rescue team.

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