Puppy-Powered Robot Snake Could Save Untold Human Lives

New technology marries technical precision and robotic technology with a working dog's keen nose to revolutionize search and rescue missions.

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Puppy-Powered Robot Snake Could Save Untold Human Lives
This German Shepherd wears the chest pack that contains the life-saving robot snake. (Photo: Carnegie Mellon University)

Navigating the scene of a disaster is tricky. While search and rescue dogs are excellent at sniffing out humans trapped in rubble, they cannot squeeze through the small cracks and holes in the wreckage. That’s where a new robotic snake comes in.  

Live Science reports that researchers at Texas A&M University were inspired by a robot snake invented at Carnegie Mellon University and decided to collaborate with the team to adapt the technology for their own Canine Assisted Robot Deployment System (CARD).

“I don’t see one replacing the other,” said Alex Ferworn, director of the Network-Centric Applied Research Team Lab at Ryerson University in Canada. “I see dogs and robots as complementary.”

The dog locates the trapped person, barks to signal his handlers, and triggers the robot snake to uncoil from a chest pack the dog wears. The snake then maneuvers its way through the small spaces, sending audio and visuals back to the rescue team.

The CARD system is very adaptable and can deploy nearly anything. Ferworn is already collaborating with Howie Choset, head of the Carnegie Mellon Robotics Institute, on how to improve the next robot-carrying system. The biggest problem is funding. While millions are given to support the military, roboticists have struggled to fund search and rescue work.

“Everything else is getting funded because there’s profit involved,” Ferworn said. “But when something goes bad, you’ll need these [search and rescue] systems.”