In 2009, Alper Bozkurt went to see Up, an animated movie that features a talking dog. An electrical engineer at North Carolina State University, he had been developing instruments to control cockroaches for search-and-rescue missions. But the movie gave him a new idea: What if he adapted his work for dogs?
Canines have long been used for search-and-rescue, but disaster zones can hamper their abilities. Because handlers rely on audio and visual cues, dogs must remain nearby, limiting the area they can cover. Bozkurt decided to build a cross-species communications system that defies distance. It enables humans and dogs to work together to save lives, even when separated by rubble.
The system consists of a harness fitted with sensors. Some track the dog’s vital signs and others monitor its movement, conveying the poses a dog strikes when it picks up a particular scent. The animal can hear cues through a speaker on the harness; it can also feel them through a series of vibrating motors near its skin.
Ultimately, Bozkurt sees these cyberdogs as just one part of a more efficient search-and-rescue team, one that could include drones, robots, and cybercockroaches. “We are at the dawn of a new era, where everything that can be interfaced electronically has started to interact,” he says. “My vision is to fuse biological organisms with synthetic electronic systems.”
Every year, Popular Science honors the 10 brightest young minds who are reshaping science, engineering, and the world. Check out the rest of this year’s Brilliant 10 here.