SERVO 07.2014 25
MAN’S BEST FRIENDS
No matter how much time, energy, and money is put into a robot,
it's going to be a very, very, very long time before there’s one as
capable as a dog. From a robotics perspective, dogs are utterly amazing.
They're fast, efficient, able to cover all sorts of terrain, can understand
both verbal and gestural commands, and they run on dog food.
Dogs do have some limitations, though. They can't move rubble
and they're not that great at flying, either. Robots can do these things,
but in a disaster scenario the key is getting all these different pieces
(robots, dogs, humans, and anything else) to work together in a
The Smart Emergency Response System (SERS) is trying to make
this work by using a combination of "ground and aerial autonomous
vehicles, drones, humanoids, human-operated telerobots, and trained
search-and-rescue dogs equipped with real-time sensors" to save as
many lives as possible in an emergency.
The project involves a number of organizations, including North
Carolina State University, Math Works, University of Washington, MIT, BluHaptics, National Instruments,
University of North Texas, Boeing, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
The SERS system combines whatever kinds of communications are available (Wi-Fi, cellular, Bluetooth,
etc.) to connect autonomous and semi-autonomous robots with a centralized command center.
The dogs are intended to be an integral part of this system, and they're being outfitted with modular
"cybernetic suits" that can be rigged up with a variety of sensors depending on the situation.
The suits also monitor the dogs themselves, sending back their heart rates so that their handlers can
make sure they're doing okay. It works in the other direction, too, with speakers on the vests relaying vocal
commands, and embedded tactile systems
providing gentle nudges to steer the dogs
Photos courtesy of Alper Bozkurt/North Carolina State University.