Bees vs Bombs

DRONE LIFE: Like workers in cubicles, honeybees trained to respond to the scent of explosives take a shift as sensors in a prototype detector.
Picture by Rothamsted Research
Date:1 August 2011 Tags:

Some researchers are willing to enlist strange allies in the quest for public security. Inscentinel, a startup company funded by the British government, created a bomb-detection device that uses 36 honeybees to sniff out explosives. First, the bees are trained to associate the scent of common explosive compounds, such as Semtex, TNT and C4, with food. (The training takes only minutes.) The team of bees is then attached to tiny sensors. Each bee holder faces an infrared LED. If a bee detects explosives, it extends its proboscis to feed, essentially sticking its tongue into the IR beam. If enough bees do this at the same time, it triggers an alarm. The company’s prototype, a handheld device about the size of a DustBuster, reportedly outperformed current detection technology in British tests, picking up vapours with part-per-trillion sensitivity. Company offi cials say the bees are returned to their hive after their shift. – Alex Hutchinson