“What is it Lassie? Is Timmy stuck in a well? Why don’t you just deploy your camera-equipped robotic snake and let it do the work?” — my version of a Lassie episode as it might play in 2012. That’s because scientists from Carnegie Mellon University and Toronto’s Ryerson University have designed a unique animal-robot team-up that could one day save lives without putting the animal in harm’s way.
The idea of robotic snakes used for rescue work isn’t new — many biomimetic robots (robots designed to emulate animals) have search-and-rescue as their primary function.
What makes the CARD (Canine Assisted Robot Deployment) system special is that it depends on a dog to operate the robot. Instead of waiting for a primitive robot snake to slowly slither its way through rubble, the dog bounds as far as it can safely before barking, signaling to the robot that it’s time to go into action.
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The tethered robot then crawls into any space the dog can’t, providing a live video feed for rescuers waiting at a safe distance. With only 48 hours to find disaster victims before the odds of survival drastically drop, the added speed a running dog provides is vital.
The whole animal-robot pairing thing reminds me of conversations I’ve had with many in the robotics field, including scientists from NASA and Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot.
Right now there’s a split in the field when it comes to biomimetic robots: Some believe that in a world built for humans and animals, roboticists should look to evolutionary “beta testing” for inspiration. Other take a less romantic approach, considering only the problem at hand and its solutions, be it tech like treads, propellers or other tools not found in nature.
CARD is a nice middle ground. Yes, it would be cool to see a lighting-fast snake or fully functional robot insect darting around disaster areas autonomously, looking for disaster victims. In reality, it’s a lot easier to let humans and dogs do most of the work, then let a robot loose when conditions get rough.
As the video shows, the dog (named Freitag) handles its part in the mission with relative ease. The trick will be to create a smarter, more agile snake capable of finding targets hidden beyond the dog’s reach. After that, it’s only a matter of time before “Robo Lassie” hits airwaves near you.
[via IEEE Spectrum]