The Canine robot device was demonstrated on campus Monday. PHOTO: JESS TSANG

Dogs, robots and science

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By Nitish Bissonauth 

A Ryerson computer science professor’s invention involving attaching a robot to a dog to help with search-and-rescue missions has landed him a spot at the EURAXESS Science Slam North America 2013.

Professor Alexander Ferworn will present his idea at the Science Slam in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 24. Similar to a poetry slam, the competition opens the floor to five finalists to showcase their research and inventions in a 10-minute presentation for a panel of judges and the crowd. The winner will go on to compete at an international Science Slam in November.

“I’m already a winner,” Ferworn said. “After all, I’m the only Canadian in the competition.”

Ferworn’s concept, dubbed the “Canine Assisted Robot De- ployment” (CARD), is a system for search-and-rescue missions where people may be buried under rubble from collapsed buildings. He’s been working on it in collaboration with the Ontario Provincial Police since 2006. A trained search-and-rescue dog is equipped with harness holding a robotic camera, nicknamed the “underdog.”

The dog is then sent into the rubble to look for survivors. Once it locates someone, the dog barks. The sound activates the robot, which is then used by rescuers to wirelessly monitor the situation and assess important factors like whether the victim is alive and how to reach them. Ferworn’s YouTube video of the dog and robot in action is what landed him a finalist position.

Even though his invention has taken him this far, Ferworn still sees room for improvement.

“If we could, we would make the [robot] parts lighter and smaller,” Ferworn said. “After all, the dog is carrying all this stuff on top of doing its initial task.”

However, Ferworn said he feels confident about being able to win the competition.

“I would be very surprised if anyone else brought on a dog and a robot,” said Ferworn. “I’m going to have a dog, what more could you ask for?”

The Science Slam is run by EURAXESS, an European organization that promotes scientific research and is supported by the European Union. Its goal is to help encourage interaction between researchers in other parts of the world and Europe, and other finalists include innovators and researchers from the likes of Yale, Harvard and Georgetown. This is the first time Ryerson University has a representative at the competition.

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