Emergency Response Teams Combine Mobile Robots, Drones, and Dogs

Dogs with cyber suits team up with ground and air rescue robots

2 min read
Emergency Response Teams Combine Mobile Robots, Drones, and Dogs
Photo: Alper Bozkurt/North Carolina State University

No matter how much time and energy and money we put into a robot, it's going to be a very very very long time before we come up with anything that's anywhere close to 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: 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 coherent way. 

The Smart Emergency Response System (SERS) is trying to make this work, 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, MathWorks, University of Washington, MIT, BluHaptics, National Instruments, University of North Texas, Boeing, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

Image: SERS

This may be one of the most charmingly terrible graphics I've ever seen, but I like how it shows an ATLAS with what I think might be a dog next to it, and we all know how well dogs and robots get along.

Anyway, 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.

Photo: Alper Bozkurt/North Carolina State University

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 that 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 remotely.

The idea of having dogs work closely with robots is an interesting one: dogs have successfully carried and deployed snake robots by themselves, and we're curious to see how far this level of interaction can be extended.

[ SERS ] via [ North Carolina State University ]

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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