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Army venture: Trading handlers for computers?

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The U.S militia is now is turning to technological methods to train the next generation of army dogs.

The U.S. military can boast a large number of working dogs, including a healthy amount trained in bomb detection. However, each dog the Army takes on represents a substantial investment in both money and time -- and not all of them make the grade.

Considering the enormous investment for a small amount of passable working dogs, the Army has become interested in other options which may streamline the process of training.

Military dogs generally train for approximately two years with a single handler before going 'in to action'. Puppies are trained to view hunting for bombs and explosives as a game -- receiving treats and affection as a reward.

As part of the military's latest release of SME research awards, three contracts have been issued to develop computerized 'coaches' for Army dogs in-training. The aim of the research is to successfully create a "a rugged automated trainer system" which would take some of the financial drain and time expense out of training dogs to detect landmines and explosives.

The scheme, labeled 'RATS' (Rugged Automated Training System) is a new Pentagon-backed venture that will run trainee animals through detection drills, and then submit “detailed data on training status and performance feedback” to their supervisors. It may take some of the bonding element away from dogs and their handlers, but on the other hand, could provide more uniform and less expensive training for military animals.

Dogs that serve in the military are known for their high bomb detection abilities and ability to work long hours. The majority of medium-sized breeds, such as Alsatians, are purchased from European breeders. Approximately four times a year military personnel travel overseas to purchase dogs that appear suitable for training. Each dog costs U.S. $3,100, but once trained, they can be worth $11,000 each.

Military Working Dogs have been used by the U.S. Military since World War I.  They can be used as scouts, bomb detectors, trackers, sentries and runners. More than their monetary worth, army dogs are considered valuable. Now, after the dog can no longer work, it can be retired with either its handler or as part of an outreach adoption program -- started several years ago.

Image credit: The U.S. Army

(Via Wired)

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Charlie Osborne

Contributing Editor

Charlie Osborne is a freelance journalist and photographer based in London. In addition to SmartPlanet, she also writes for business technology website ZDNet and consumer technology site CNET. She holds a degree in medical anthropology from the University of Kent. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure