Who says bugs are dumb?

Certainly not Cary-based Bennett Aerospace and its spinout technology Smart Hound.

Bugs are at least easier and faster to train for biosensing than dogs, says Dougles Bennett, the firm’s president.

And YOU can enlist in the fight against bedugs as well as other maladies – perhaps someday even in detecting cancer, something the founders list as “stretch goals” for their technology – by participating in crowdsource funding of the company’s latest efforts. 

Using technology developed by the Pentagon, the University of Georgia and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Smart Hound trains bugs to detect bedbugs. But the company has a a bigger dream.

“Smart Hound: BioSensing for Human Health,” it says.

“Smart Hound uses trained insects – Sensor Bugs – in a hand-held device to detect the presence of bed bugs, termites, and other household nuisances.”

With 15 employees already in place and supported by the Department of Defense, Bennett Aerospace turned to the fairly recently phenomenon of crowdsource funding to raise money for Smart Hound. Recently launched on Indigogo, Smart Hound has raised some $1,500 of its $100,000 goal.

Checking Hotel for Bedbugs

So why go crowdsourcing?

“There are people who are keenly interested in bedbugs and would like a way to monitor for them – but there is no technology to do that today on a regular basis (e.g. as you are checking into a hotel room),” Bennett explained. “Crowdsourcing allows us to gauge the public interest in Smart Hound technology so we can determine which applications of the device are most important to consumers, starting with bedbug detection.”

Bennett and his wife, Chief Executive Officer Julia, launched the company in 2008. They chose Aerospace as part of the firm’s name to reflect their high-tech mission, and the firm’s website attests to that focus:

  • Cyber, intelligence and communications
  • Advanced materials, chemical/biological
  • Health and medical devices
  • Robotics 
  • Photonics: optics, lasers and displays

The Bennetts, who are both engineers by training, moved to RTP seven years ago. Both have extensive government and military contacts as well as experience. Mrs. Bennett also is an Army veteran. The two “know well” government agencies such as the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, or DARPA, Bennett noted.

But Smart Bugs isn’t a super-secret CIA spy project or anything of the sort.

“We have known about the technology for nearly a decade and found two years ago that it was actually available,” Bennett explained. They decided to license it, and there are two patents to provide intellectual property protection.

Basic Training

Now don’t get the idea that Smart Hound implants human DNA in bugs’ brains to make them smart.

But the question that has to be asked: How in the world do you train bugs?

“The SensorBugs are trained using food rewards, much in the same way dogs are trained using treats,” Bennett explained.

But talk about smarter than dogs ..

“It takes 2 minutes to train the insect,” Bennett noted, adding the training time is  ”about six months for a dog.”

Bedbugs to Start

Why focus on bedbugs?

“We have chosen to focus on bedbugs as the application for our crowdsourcing campaign because we think that the shocking quality of consumers having the ability to detect pests like bedbugs in their homes with a simple handheld device will garner attention,” Bennett said. “Bedbugs have a tremendous negative impact on people and this has the potential to help solve the problem.”

To get Smart Bugs to this point has certainly been a team endeavor.

“The technology was developed under DARPA and USDA funding and was co-developed by the USDA and University of Georgia,” Bennett said.

And the future appears bright.

“The core technology is the same for different tests – we simply trained the insects to a different scent depending on what we want to detect,” Bennett explained.

So instead of “Fetch, Fido,” we someday may be saying “Detect cancer, bugs!”

Amazing, isn’t it?