Now, a national team of post-disaster researchers charged with figuring out the future of search and rescue are developing what might just be the most useful and adorable innovation yet: A high-tech dog backpack. According to PhysOrg, the Smart Emergency Response System (SERS) project’s goal is to “use cyber-physical systems to share information and coordinate emergency and disaster response and recovery.” Drones, terrain-navigating robots, and human augmentation are all being explored as potential options.
But a small team of SERS researchers from North Carolina State University are developing what’s being called a “high-tech harness equipped with sensors” that can be worn by rescue dogs. It is outfitted with cybernetic enhancements like cameras, microphones, gas monitors, and heart rate monitors, and can be used to issue instructions to the animals wirelessly, like if they come upon a survivor in need of help. Per PhysOrg:
The active communication technologies on the harness will allow handlers to relay commands to a dog remotely. [Researchers] have incorporated audio communication, via speakers, into the vest. However, they think the more reliable remote communication will come via “tactile inputs”–they’re training dogs to respond to gentle “nudges” that come from within the electronic harness itself.
“I want to be clear that these are not aversive punishments,” says researcher David Roberts, “but slight, tactile nudges from motors in the vest–like a vibrating cell phone. We’re using exclusively reward-based training techniques.” The team isn’t the first to develop wearable tech for pooches, either. Last year, a team of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology revealed a wearable computing harness that allows assistance dogs to “talk” back to their handlers via a device like Google Glass.