MIT creating app to track HeroRATs 

MIT faculty member visits the APOPO training center.

APOPO’s Headquarters and R&D center in Morogoro, Tanzania had the pleasure of hosting Dr. David Robertson last week. He spent a couple of days at APOPO observing mine detection rat training sessions and talking to handlers to gain a better understanding of how they work together in order to finalize the creation of an automated rat tracking app.

Dr. David Robertson is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management where he teaches Innovation and Product Development. Prior to MIT, David was the LEGO Professor of Innovation and Technology Management at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, and a Professor of Practice at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Last year David met APOPO founder Bart Weetjens and wanted to find a way to help the organization. David gave his Product Management class at MIT a challenge: could they develop an app to support the rat handlers at APOPO?

Manual deminers prepare ‘safe lanes’ around a box of 200m2 with metal detectors in order to provide safe access to minefields. After this, a pair of handlers and a single rat systematically check the entire area for explosives. During each session the rat handlers mark with a pen where a HeroRAT has found a landmine on a piece of graph paper. This process is manual, slow and is paper-intensive.

APOPO’s CEO, Christophe Cox, asked the MIT class to develop an app that would support the rat handlers in the field. One team took on the challenge and did a nice job developing the specifications for a rat-tracking app but were unable to develop a working app in the timeframe of the class. 

Since then, David has been working with a small team to complete the work. They’ve chosen ultra-wideband technology (instead of Bluetooth or Wi-Fi), purchased the hardware, designed mounts and housings for the hardware, programmed a wireframe app, and hired a programmer. The team has designed a holder that fits on the leash of a rat’s harness, so that the rats can still comfortably carry out their duties.

This project is an interesting opportunity to integrate some technology into the APOPO landmine detection process, and APOPO looks forward to seeing how it can improve efficiency and accuracy on the minefields.