The Lassie of the future will not bark for the sheriff. Instead, a wireless sensor on her harness will detect gas in an earthquake-shattered building, then text the drones and first responders on the scene. Or at least that's one team's idea behind a design from this year's SmartAmerica Challenge, a project launched by the White House Innovation Fellow program.
The Internet of Dogs is actually just one part of a larger emergency response system. Computer scientists from a range of academic institutions and industries developed a process by which drones, robots, dogs, and human first responders could communicate with one another automatically in the event of disaster.
It starts with a smartphone app that launches a personal hotspot to link up multiple survivors' phones. After that, the robots, dogs, robotic arms, humanoids, and drones come in. But the dogs play a unique role. Unlike the robots, or drones, which accomplish solely what the humans in central command tell them to, dogs can sniff out a human being trapped under rubble. And unlike robots or drones, there's increasing evidence that having dogs maneuver a crisis not only calms disaster survivors, but also decreases the stress of first responders themselves.
The dogs' stress levels will be read online, too. Simba and Diesel, the two Labrador retrievers that showed off the technology at the SmartAmerica exposition earlier this month, wore heart rate variability monitors, a network of vibrating nodes that could be controlled by humans, and sensors that tracked their movements. The two researchers developing the team's dog communication platform say that one day, some of these measurements will become so fine-tuned that they could be translated into a kind of language.
"Once we understand what the dog is feeling and what the dog is doing remotely, you can just make the computer talk to you about the dog's state, and then you can make the computer talk to you as if it's the dog itself," explains Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University. "If the dog is stressed, it's not a good time to train it. It could say, 'I'm stressed, I don't want to do it now.'"
So far, Bozkurt and his colleagues have only developed an Internet of electrode-saddled cockroaches. A true Internet of dogs, he says, is the next big leap for mankind. The applications could range from quantified pets to service dogs that also act as responsive cyborgs.
"The dogs are our next scale in terms of organisms. Humans and dogs communicated with each other for a long time, built this unbelievable partnership for 300,000 years based on communication," Bozkurt says. "You read the body language of the dog, and you try to let dog understand your body language through training. What we tried to do was take this burden off of [dog handlers'] shoulders and put it on a computer."