Are the days of the sniffer dogs finally over?
A new report by the BBC argues that quite possibly science may be close to overtaking and finding a better replacement for the sniffer dog.
For years dogs have been used by police and security forces across the globe to help track down drugs and explosives. They have even been used to locate decomposing bodies.
The reasons are obvious why they are used. A human has 5 million scent receptors, the bloodhound for example has up to 300 million.
Dog Handler Sgt Adam Turner says that "The dog can currently detect 10 different substances from homemade explosives to manufactured substances. We can detect a huge range of size and substances,"
Dogs do however have their problems and unlike a machine they are not ready for use 24 hours a day. They will become bored & tired and will therefore need a break every so often. They need to be trained and need a dedicated handler with them plus one day they will need to retire. All in all it makes maintaining a sniffer dog an expensive and intensive project.
Proffessor Ken Grattan of City University is leading a team to help build a sensor mounted robot that will help sniff out illegal substances. The benefits of a such a system outweigh a dog by far.
"Every sniffer dog has to have a handler, so you have the cost of the person and the dog. If you can automate this the great advantage is you can run the robot 24 hours a day," says Grattan.
Still though, the machine the team are working on has many drawbacks where a dog still leads such as having to be prompted to smell rather than a dog constantly on alert and it will only sniff out exact smells that it has been programmed to do.
In scientific regards smell seriously lags behind vision and hearing.
"We don't yet know how we build up a picture world of smell in the same way we do with vision or hearing," says Beauchamp who is a professor at Monell Chemical Senses Centre.
The answer some believe is not actually in scientific development of a machine but actually within other animals. In East Africa a Belgian company is training rats to locate minefields. Another example shows the use of moths being used to search for the smell of cannabis.
One such animal thought to have great potential is the common honeybee.
"The inherent algorithm associated with the brain of the honeybee, as well as their antennae, collectively are a sensor,"
"We just needed to figure out a way to extract a signal from that sensor." says Robert Wingo of the Los Alamos Natural Laboratory.
Insects are being found to be faster learners that dogs and of course a lot cheaper to train and manage.
So what will take over the sniffer dog? The use of Insects or a scientific machine? Or will dogs always be on top? Please leave your views below.
Photo: West Midlands Police