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Explosive Detecting Devices Face Off With Bomb Dogs 115

Posted by samzenpus
from the dog-john-henry dept.
First time accepted submitter titan1070 writes "French scientist Dr. Spitzer and his colleagues have been working on a device that can sense faint traces of TNT and other explosives being smuggled into airports and other transportation methods. the hope for this device is that it will surpass the best bomb finder in the business, the sniffer dog. From the article: ' While researchers like Dr. Spitzer are making progress — and there are some vapor detectors on the market — when it comes to sensitivity and selectivity, dogs still reign supreme. “Dogs are awesome,” said Aimee Rose, a product sales director at the sensor manufacturer Flir Systems, which markets a line of explosives detectors called Fido. “They have by far the most developed ability to detect concealed threats,” she said. But dogs get distracted, cannot work around the clock and require expensive training and handling, Dr. Rose said, so there is a need for instruments.'"
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Explosive Detecting Devices Face Off With Bomb Dogs

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  • In other words (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @07:04PM (#41687511)
    "We can't use dogs to spy on everybody, everyplace, all the time".
    • Re:In other words (Score:4, Informative)

      by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @07:33PM (#41687775)

      "We can't use dogs to spy on everybody, everyplace, all the time."

      You wouldn't want to anyway. In blind studies, drug- and explosive-sniffing dogs actually have a pretty terrible track record. A literally unacceptable percentage of false positives, for example.

      Turned out, the dogs were responding to very subtle cues from their handlers, rather than their own senses. Which renders them completely inappropriate for law-enforcement use.

      • by jamstar7 (694492) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @07:53PM (#41687921)

        "We can't use dogs to spy on everybody, everyplace, all the time."

        You wouldn't want to anyway. In blind studies, drug- and explosive-sniffing dogs actually have a pretty terrible track record. A literally unacceptable percentage of false positives, for example. Turned out, the dogs were responding to very subtle cues from their handlers, rather than their own senses. Which renders them completely inappropriate for law-enforcement use.

        Not to mention the probable fact that the dogs are most likely smarter than the average TSA employee.

        Have any lawyers won with the argument that the dogs were taking cues from their handlers yet?

      • Turned out, the dogs were responding to very subtle cues from their handlers, rather than their own senses. Which renders them completely inappropriate for law-enforcement use.

        Just think of them as adorable furry machines for turning a supply of dog food and free-floating suspicion into 'probable cause' without any judicial hassle. It's a feature!

      • by cyn1c77 (928549)

        You wouldn't want to anyway. In blind studies, drug- and explosive-sniffing dogs actually have a pretty terrible track record. A literally unacceptable percentage of false positives, for example.

        Turned out, the dogs were responding to very subtle cues from their handlers, rather than their own senses. Which renders them completely inappropriate for law-enforcement use.

        I don't understand? If the dogs were blind, how could they see their handlers' cues?

        Joking, joking...

    • by Weezul (52464)

      We could certainly employ dogs 24-7 by buying enough trained dogs for all airports an sea ports. Expensive? Yes. More expensive than TSA nudy scanners? Hell no.

      Dogs are dirt cheap compared with high tech stuff, but that's their problem : DHS doesn't care one iota about security. DHS cares only about the kick backs. And good kick backs require pumping serious money into something that's basically fake, exploitive, etc.

      • by peragrin (659227)

        especially since their are very easy ways to bypass sniffer tests.

        It involves a little bit of work but an extra step or two isn't hard. It just means that the person who packs the bomb. has to be different from the the person who packs the bag, and who delivers the bomb.

        since that is usually the case anyways,all you need is to add a cleaning and sterlization routine to the bomb packaging. and make sure none of the three people actually get close to one another.

    • by artor3 (1344997)

      Yeah, who cares about bombs killing people!? This infringes on my right to secretly carry my lucky bag of ANFO with me wherever I go!

      • "Yeah, who cares about bombs killing people!? This infringes on my right to secretly carry my lucky bag of ANFO with me wherever I go!"

        Please show me where sniffer dogs have uncovered ANYBODY carrying explosives at airports during the years since 9/11. I can certainly point out a few cases where they didn't...

        • by artor3 (1344997)

          Who says this is only going to be used in American airports? Are you really so blissfully unaware of what goes on outside our borders? A cheap system that could detect bombs reliably and discreetly* would save countless lives in the Middle East. And making sure people aren't carrying explosives hardly counts as spying on them.

          But no. This is Slashdot. America is the source of all evil. Technology enables the evil Americans. All other people in the world are simply animals reacting to the evil America

          • "Who says this is only going to be used in American airports?"

            I wasn't. *I* was responding only to GP, and asking where that cheapness and reliability actually is.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    and sniff each others asses, so they have an inherent advantage. or maybe that's a disadvantage becasue TSA,

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Sure they do. The poop is simply created before instead of after and comes in the form of billowing exhaust out of a smokestack miles away.
    • by nonos (158469)

      I'm always wondering why dogs who have a such good and sensible odorate have to be so close to other dogs arses to sniff 'em.

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      and sniff each others asses, so they have an inherent advantage. or maybe that's a disadvantage becasue TSA,

      That calibrates their nose.

  • Rats! (Score:5, Informative)

    by sandytaru (1158959) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @07:06PM (#41687539) Journal
    The Hero Rats do just as well as dogs, and they are more suited to hot and humid clients. Plus, they work for peanuts. [apopo.org]
    • by martas (1439879)
      I can't believe I hadn't heard about them before. What they're doing is awesome, and adorable!
  • by Tablizer (95088)

    They'll throw a boobie-trapped Schrodinger's Cat into the mix just to fsck with everybody

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      And they won't.

  • Priorities.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mark-t (151149) <markt@@@lynx...bc...ca> on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @07:13PM (#41687607) Journal

    They have by far the most developed ability to detect concealed threats

    That statement, entirely by itself, should qualify dogs as a better option, but let me elaborate...

    But dogs get distracted, cannot work around the clock and require expensive training ...

    so do employees. What's your point?

    Dogs work. They work well. They are unsurpassed in reliability by any instrument we've been able to devise.... the fact that they can't be used like machines could should no more be a reason to not use them than the fact that humans can't work like machines should be a reason to not employ people.

    When a machine can do a *BETTER* job at it than a dog... then I could see replacing them being viable. Until then, however, let Spot and Fido keep their jobs.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The international airport around here uses pigs. May have something to do with the fact that they mostly just ship freight and that pigs are cheaper in the midwest.

      • by Sulphur (1548251)

        The international airport around here uses pigs. May have something to do with the fact that they mostly just ship freight and that pigs are cheaper in the midwest.

        They don't like being called that you insensitive clod.

    • While what you said is all true, instruments are also much less likely to give false positives just because the handler wants it to do so. I agree that dogs can be reliable when used well, but in situations where the true positive rate is less than 0.01%, there are other issues with dogs.

  • Title (Score:5, Funny)

    by Time_Ngler (564671) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @07:15PM (#41687623)

    It took me several tries to parse the title without the image of a dog's face exploding spontaneously entering my mind.

  • to analyze what people have been consuming.
  • by BeaverCleaver (673164) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @07:21PM (#41687687)

    So why the hell does every airport I've been to swab me for explosives instead of using a dog? Those mass spectrometers aren't cheap.

    • by truesaer (135079)

      Because the dogs are mobile and can search.

    • Because there is far more money to be siphoned off using scanners and spectrometers.

    • So why the hell does every airport I've been to swab me for explosives instead of using a dog? Those mass spectrometers aren't cheap.

      You assume the swab is then used in a mass spectrometer. Putting the swab in a precursor that changes color when it detects something works too.

      • "You assume the swab is then used in a mass spectrometer. Putting the swab in a precursor that changes color when it detects something works too."

        About as well as a dog. Please list for me the precursors for the 200 or so common explosives used today.

        • About as well as a dog. Please list for me the precursors for the 200 or so common explosives used today.

          Hydrocarbons. Ammonia. Oxygen. That should cover most of 'em right there.

          • True, but you've just laid yourself open to a shitload of false positives.

            Nitrates should be first on the list, probably, because they are the most common base, but by no means the only.
        • by sFurbo (1361249)
          Most of the explosives break down to NO2(g) slowly, so detecting that would take care of them. Only the peroxygenbased ones and ANFO left, IIRC. ANFO needs a primary explosive, so you can detect that, and the peroxide based ones should be findable by their oxidizing effect (though that will give some false positives).

          Are there any explosives I am missing?

          Of course, explosives either commercial, in which case they could contain easily identifiable tracers (I don't know if they do, but it would seem likel
      • Whenever I've been able to see the hardware, it's been a mass spectrometer... Or a clever simulation that shows a series of peaks on the screen. Although I wouldn't put it past the TSA to fake such a simulation!

  • by NoKaOi (1415755) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @07:29PM (#41687749)

    They complain about the expense of training dogs. Yes, they require a lot of training and that takes a lot of time an money, but how many dogs could you train for the cost of these devices? Each FIDO device costs $21k. It costs $10k-$15k to train a bomb sniffing dog, and once you pay for their education dogs are willing to work for room and board. If more resources were put into training methods then the per-dog cost to train could probably be brought down quite a big too. Dogs are also a lot cuter, and the FIDO device doesn't like to cuddle, or so I've heard. I say forget all the fancy super expensive scanners, just go back to old-fashioned metal detectors for people and x-ray scanners for carry-ons, and get a lot of dogs.

    • The research is to make them more effective and cheaper. I would expect these to become cheaper as time goes by. I would support the research, but not buy these devices yet.

    • by truesaer (135079)

      If the fido works as well as the dog, then it would seem better even at a price premium. The dog would cost a few grand a year in upkeep, needs round the clock care, need a place to be housed on premises, needs a place to relieve itself even if in a large building complex etc. A computerized device would have lower upkeep costs (hopefully), could be used irregularly (give one to each military unit, etc), can be redistributed from place to place as needs change without also relocating a handler, etc. I'm

    • by Sulphur (1548251)

      They complain about the expense of training dogs. Yes, they require a lot of training and that takes a lot of time an money, but how many dogs could you train for the cost of these devices? Each FIDO device costs $21k. It costs $10k-$15k to train a bomb sniffing dog, and once you pay for their education dogs are willing to work for room and board. If more resources were put into training methods then the per-dog cost to train could probably be brought down quite a big too. Dogs are also a lot cuter, and the FIDO device doesn't like to cuddle, or so I've heard. I say forget all the fancy super expensive scanners, just go back to old-fashioned metal detectors for people and x-ray scanners for carry-ons, and get a lot of dogs.

      How about robotic dog trainers? Automate the process and drive costs down.

  • You forgot another problem with dogs: They can be trained to respond to a surrepticious signal to indicate explosives or drugs when there are none... thus allowing the officers probable cause to go dig around for what they're actually looking for. Same thing with breathalyzers -- they're suseptible to near-field EM... like the kind that comes from a police radio being keyed up while the suspect is breathing into the device. Tools not only need to limit false negatives and positives, but also intentional man

    • by NoKaOi (1415755)

      You forgot another problem with dogs: They can be trained to respond to a surrepticious signal to indicate explosives or drugs when there are none... thus allowing the officers probable cause to go dig around for what they're actually looking for.

      You do realize that in an airport they can pretty much search whoever and whatever they want, with or without a dog or machine, right?

      • "You do realize that in an airport they can pretty much search whoever and whatever they want, with or without a dog or machine, right?"

        Only international airports, for international flights.

        Other than those, what they "can do" is pretty much Constitutionally limited, although I admit the Supreme Court has not seemed to feel very constrained by the Constitution in recent, past years.

      • by Artifakt (700173)

        The law gives the TSA a lot of flexability, but that doesn't mean the real limits the public will tolerate will always match the law. Why would any police type agent want to demand that the public simply believe they are totally fair and unbiased just because the law says so, when they can simply say the dog made the decision so their potential bias doesn't enter into it? If I somehow got a law passed saying I had the authority to do X because I am totally fair and unbiased, would you start believing that a

  • That is the holy grail of electronic detectors. Right now the only thing that detect semtex in situ is the highly trained and sensitive nose of a springer spaniel. Bare semtex can be detected electronically by "sniffing" the RDX component, but most semtex that passes through civilian airports is encased hence undetectable. Lately the commercial production of semtex has included an internationally agreed volatile marking agent which makes it easier for dogs to detect even if the container is apparently herme

  • A few years ago I went to a talk by an expert on explosives detection. He said, "if someone tells you they can detect explosive better than a dog, don't believe them, because we don't really know how well dogs can detect explosives."

  • Or did the Article headline seem to suggest dog detecting bombs explode and blow their faces off???

  • by Ukab the Great (87152) on Wednesday October 17, 2012 @11:44PM (#41689409)

    Switches vs Bitches Smackdown.

  • I was on the verge of creating a bomb that could detect faint traces of dog.

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