See Spot Train and Seek: Robotics Slowly Replacing Animals in the Classroom and Under the Waves

Cornell University has developed a new tool that could change the way veterinarians are trained. While it might not fetch your paper or shoes the way that your dog might, or completely ignore you like a cat, it can give future vets a realistic device in training.

Introducing Robo-Jerry II and Robo-Fluffy. Four legged robotic 'mannequins' that have a mechanical heart and pulse, and is a great leap forward in training of students without the need to harm or kill animals in the process.

Daniel Fletcher, the robots' developer at the Ithaca, New York college, said he purchased dog and cat simulators from Thales & Co. of Van Nuys, California, which makes a line of animal mannequins under the RescueCritters! brand. He developed and inserted artificial lungs and speakers that produce heart sounds and pulses. The robot also has sensors that can detect when a student is putting pressure on its chest.

"The goal is to give students a way to practice these emergency situations without hurting the animal," he said. "They can see real results instead of making a mistake on a real animal."

Hundreds of healthy animals at veterinarian schools have died after being used to teach surgical procedures. This has long been a concern and focal point of animal rights activists and animal lovers.  Many activists view it as an ongoing battle to have this practice stopped. Susan Krebsbach, a veterinarian and an adviser to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association said, "It's so encouraging to see the use of these types of tools... It's a better way to teach students."

"The robot has pulses which you can feel," Fletcher said. "You can hear the heart and lungs as you would with a real dog or cat. It provides students with physiological feedback."

Meanwhile, an ocean away, LITERALLY...

When Iran was making threats to close the Straits of Hormuz and mine the Persian Gulf last year, the retired Admiral of the US 5th Fleet shrugged when asked if he was worried about it. "We've got Dolphins," he states.

For nearly 50 years, the US Navy has 'employed' dolphins and even sea lions to locate, detach and sometimes even disarm mines (contrary to popular belief, they are not trained to kill, nor do they carry guns, knives, wear berets or know kung-fu). The Navy compares the use of these animals to the critical role of bomb dogs being used in combat or in other security sensitive scenarios, and they are widely praised for their abilities.

However, after decades of dedicated work, these loyal submariners are about to be decommissioned.

Captain Frank Linkous, head of the US Navy's Mine Warfare Branch, explains that "We're in a period of transition." Swimming into their place is a new generation of robotic mine hunters, he adds.

In April of last year, the Navy unveiled its plans for Knifefish, a torpedo-shaped, underwater robot that will be able to stay submerged and roam the seas for up to 16 hours, looking for mines. While it won't be ready to be part of the Navy's arsenal until 2017, the Navy is banking on Kingfish to replace the marine mammals.

The Navy is also buying the German-made SeaFox mine hunting system, another robotic underwater vehicle that is guided by a fiber-optic cable and can be used to attach a charge to a mine.

While Linkous describes the dolphins as a "fantastic system," he is confident that robotic technology will be able to do much of what they can do, only cheaper and easier. "Maybe not 100%, but fairly close," he says.

The introduction of these systems not only removes the need for the use of marine life to detect and disarm mines but increasingly, more and more of these tasks that have been performed by Navy (human) divers can be handled by robotic submersibles as well.       

So, while robotics is making our lives a little easier, competitive and safer, it's doing wonders for the quality life for our furry little and sometimes slimy skinned friends.

Comments (2) -

Bill Perry

Very cool use of robotics technology.  Still, there's no better use removing humans from dangerous  jobs or tasks with high incidence of repetitive-motion health. At the recent robotics show in Chicago, there was a new (and surprisingly inexpensive) example of the latter, (see articles.chicagotribune.com/.../ct-biz-0122-baxter-robot-20130122_1_baxter-robot-mccormick-place). Here's some wild video of the former: www.pythonx.com/.../...plasma-beam-drill-line.html

Chuck Moore

I think that's a great idea for the vets schools. Guess we'll have to see long term if they can get the same 'hands on' training they would if the animals were 'real'. Either way love to see the robotics is advancing. I'm almost jealous of what my 1 year old son have when he's my age.


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