Animal kingdom's alternatives to full-body scanners

Published 18 July 2011

A typical full-body scanner costs upward of $150,000, and critics maintain that for this high price-tag we get a detection system which is not fool-proof and which may be risky for our health; they point out that experience in IED diction in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that dogs are superior to scanners in detecting explosives — and that they are much cheaper ($8,500 for a dog plus training) and do not pose any health risk; some researchers say that mice and bees are even better bomb sniffers than dogs

A typical full-body scanner costs upward of $150,000, and some argue that this to high a price for a piece of machinery which is not always accurate — and, what is more, the health effects of which are still being studied.

Lawmakers on the Hill, for example, are currently debating whether explosive-sniffing dogs would do a better job than scanners at U.S. airports and other transportation hubs. The pro-dog camp argue that dogs have at least two distinct advantages over scanners: first, they pose no radiation health risk to those being scanned. Second, they are much cheaper (on average, the cost of a dog plus its training in bomb detection is about $8,500).The pro-dog camp also argues that dogs are equal or better than scanners when it comes to detecting explosives.

Explosives-detection dogs were used successfully in Iraq by U.S. and coalition forces. Reporting on the success of dogs in sniffing IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan, NPR reported that “Sniffer dogs are universally recognized as the most effective means of detecting explosives.”

Other countries have reached similar conclusions. The BBC reports that in Russia, the military is using dogs in the fight against Chechen terrorists. “Dogs can detect the kind of deadly material and explosives that a human being, a robot or a mine detector often struggle to find,” a Russian military official told the BBC.

Care2 reports that the Russians have been using using Sulimov dogs for sniffing bombs since 2002.

Bomb-sniffing dogs, however, may be no match for two other animals. Israeli researchers report that they found that mice are better than dogs in the bomb sniffing department, while a group of researchers in Hertfordshire reported that bees are superior to both dogs and mice in bomb sniffing.