WiFi Harnesses Could Aid Dogs In Disaster Relief Efforts
The Smart Emergency Response System uses wireless sensors to turn search and rescue dogs into souped-up emergency first responders.
From herding sheep to helping the blind, dogs have worked alongside humans for centuries. One team competing in the White House Presidential Innovation Fellow project’s SmartAmerica challenge envisions a future where dogs, equipped with wireless sensors on their harnesses, assist first responders in disaster areas.
Dubbed by researchers an “Internet of Dogs,” the canine teams are one aspect of the Smart Emergency Response System (SERS), which also relies on drones, human responders, and robots to provide sophisticated emergency relief that emphasizes automatic communication. A smartphone app starts the response process by creating a hotspot using phones in the area, after which a team of responders is deployed to help survivors.
The system is designed so that each type of responder plays a special role in a coordinated relief effort, but the use of dogs may have multiple benefits. Unlike their drones or robots, the dogs act independently of human control. Their maneuverability and strong sense of smell make them perfectly suited for navigating rubble and smelling survivors who are otherwise undetectable. Whenever a dog finds something, the sensors on the harness would alert drones and human responders immediately.
While dogs have been used in rescue efforts for years, their usefulness will be amplified by their high-tech harnesses, designed by North Carolina State University researchers Alper Bozkurt and David Roberts. Devices such as microphones, gas sensors, and cameras survey the environment, allowing the dogs’ findings to be relayed in real time. The condition of the dogs, including their heart rate and stress levels, would be monitored by the high-tech harness as well. The team believes that this physiological tracking system could be developed into a language: if a dog’s stress levels are too high, it might send out a message saying, “I’m stressed, I don’t want to do it now.” Handlers would also be able to communicate with a dog directly via gentle vibrations in the harness.
The development team consists of ambitious researchers from North Carolina State University, MIT, the University of Washington, the University of North Texas, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, MathWorks, Boeing, BluHaptics, and National Instruments. They exhibited their work at the SmartAmerica challenge event in Washington, D.C. in early June.