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Feral robotic toy dogs designed to Sniff Out environmental toxins set loose

Yale University : 04 April, 2003  (New Product)
Robotic dogs adapted by teen students in the Bronx, New York under the guidance of Yale engineering professor Natalie Jeremijenko, will be released Saturday, April 5 at 1:30 p.m. at the Bronx River Flotilla Festival at the Cement Plant park on Westchester Ave. in the Bronx.
The 'feral' robotic dogs will guide their teen partners to find the locations with the highest concentration of toxic pollutants in and around the Cement Plant park, which will soon be open to the public. They display the levels they are 'sniffing' by changing their movement.

'These students have been very quick at 'improving' these toys and understanding the social and political reasons for why we would like to re-think what 'toys' can be,' said project creator, Jeremijenko, director of the Experimental Design Lab of the Department of Engineering at Yale University. 'The students are much more interested in using them to explore their local environmental conditions than in following the user manual that comes with the original toys. We also have had fun doing some challenging engineering with these students.'

Teens at the Bronx River Art Center collaborated with Jeremijenko and William Kavesh, an artist in residence at BRAC, to disassemble and rebuild the commercially available robotic toy dogs. The toys were 'upgraded' by installing a new nose (data collection sensors), a new brain that programs the dogs to 'sniff out' contaminants in the environment and by mechanically improving them so that they can traverse outdoor terrain. The students have transformed the dogs into so-called 'feral robots.'

The project is being piloted at BRAC as well as at several brown-field sites across the nation, including: Baldwin Park in Orlando, Fla., The English Power Station in New Haven, Conn. and Snake River in Boise, Idaho.

The Bronx River experiment gives the students hands-on experience with mechanical, electronic and computing skills and their efforts will also facilitate community-led monitoring of local environmental conditions. The goal of the project is to provide the opportunity for evidence-driven environmental discussion.

BRAC's Executive Director, Gail Nathan said, 'We expect our students to conclude the course with a better understanding of the type of chemical pollutants that affect our fresh water system, a familiarity with the range of sensors that can be used to measure the presence of toxic substances in the environment and a greater sense of personal interest in their role as custodians of the environment.'
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