Birds know when a storm is coming, and dogs can sense when their masters are feeling down. That animals display emotions in response to external stimuli has long been known to scientists. Now an Israeli company has trained mice to respond when they detect explosives, alerting security officers at airport and mall security checkpoints.

Bio-Sense mice in action, detecting explosives and contraband at a checkpoint (Photo credit: Courtesy)

Bio-Sense mice in action, detecting explosives and contraband at a checkpoint (Photo credit: Courtesy)

The system, called Bio-Explorer, was developed by Israel’s Tamar Group, which specializes in designing detonation systems for construction and quarrying, training personnel to handle explosives safely, and detecting and neutralizing explosives. The system uses specially trained mice equipped with biological sensors which detect changes in their heart rate, breathing, and other factors. The mice are conditioned to react when they “smell” explosives, drugs, or other contraband, and their reactions are recorded by a computer to which the sensors upload the bio-data. When something untoward is detected, the system alerts inspectors or security officers, who can then take the requisite steps.

The system will be introduced for the first time this week at the International Conference on Homeland Security in Tel Aviv. Attending will be dozens of top security officials from countries around the world, mayors, police officials, heads of security agencies, and businesspeople in the homeland security business. The conference is sponsored by the Israel Export Institute, along with the Homefront Security Ministry, Defense Ministry, Industry, Labor, and Trade Ministry, and Foreign Ministry.

The visitors will be coming to see innovative technologies like that of the Tamar Group, said CEO Boaz Hayun. “Animals’ senses are far more well developed than humans’, and more well developed than even the most advanced security sensors created by man,” he said. “Our system takes animals and turns them into biological sensors, using specially-trained laboratory mice and measuring their reactions to outside stimuli. They are placed at the entry point in a security checkpoint or installation, and when they detect something that appears suspicious, the sensor records their physical reactions and communicates it to a computer that analyzes the data and alerts security personnel.”

Hayun said that the systems has been under development for six years, and that the company is developing specializes products for use in various scenarios: air and ship cargo, agricultural shipments, vehicle inspections, and others. “We believe this product will have a major impact on the homeland security market,” said Hayun.

That market is growing, said Ofer Zaks, CEO of the Israel Export Institute, a division of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor that helps Israeli companies break into markets overseas. “The rate of growth in the homeland security market in recent years has been 6.5% annually, and in 2011 total worldwide investments in homeland security products, technology, and training was $188 billion.”

By 2020, said Zaks, the market will be worth $330 billion annually. There’s no reason Israel can’t take a decent chunk of that market. “The conference will help cement Israel as a major brand in homeland security technology,” he said, “with an emphasis on Israel’s technological capabilities and experience in dealing with terrorism.”

Among those attending the conference will be Prefect Claude Balland, director of France’s General National Police Commissioner, France; José Hilário Nunes Medeiros, security general manager of the FIFA 2014 World Cup; Superintendent Garry F. McCarthy of the Chicago Police Department; Luiz Fernando Correa, director of security of the 2016 Brazil Olympic Games Organizing Committee; and many others. The conference will feature seminars and discussions about all aspects of homeland security in the 21st century, including cybersecurity, “smart cities,” infrastructure protection, and homefront security.