APOPO HeroRat mine detectionhttp://www.vimeo.com/12595867
Some heroes are rats
The wars of the last century have left behind 55 million landmines and unexploded ordnance. Landmines kill 40 to 50 people every day and 1.3 million acres of land around the world are infested with mines. When war is over mine clearance begins. Mine clearance is usually done manually with metal detectors or mine-detection dogs. This is a slow and expensive procedure. It will take five hundred years to clear the world of all landmines if we have no alternative.
Bart Weetjens has a completely different approach to the landmine detection problem. The complex technology surprised him when he analyzed the problem of mine detection in Africa in 1995. He set out to develop cheaper and more efficient technologies that rely on locally available resources. In an old laboratory in Belgium he began training giant pouched rats to detect explosives in minute amounts. He then moved to Tanzania where he now runs a world-class training facility in Morogoro and works with locals. Thanks to his work countries can shift from being dependent on foreign expertise for the mine clearance process to having the power to control it themselves.
The African giant pouched rat is widespread in the region and lives up to eight years in captivity. Being a lightweight it enables them to navigate through minefields without detonating active landmines. Before being officially allowed to work as mine detectors, the rats have to pass a licensing test. If they detect all the hidden mines on blinded boxes, they obtain a license for half a year of operational work. The rats that pass the training become official HeroRATS.
Weetjens has applied a similar approach to other fields. His rats also diagnose tuberculosis in hospitals now.
Bart Weetjes is a product developer and industrial designer. In 1995 he initiated the APOPO project by analysis of landmine detection technologies. He became managing director in 1997 and has done research and development of appropriate landmine detection technology since, using trained rats as biosensors. In 2007, the World Economic Forum elected Bart Weetjens Social Entrepreneur of the Year.