Robot School before doing so, he writes that he “gently applied
On the day we caught up with Jeremijenko, she chloroform to sedate her before rolling her onto
was planning to have her class release a pack her back exposing her underbelly.” He proceeded
of feral robotic dogs on the Mission Bay Landfill to remove the skin carefully before taking out
in San Diego. Local media, along with political various screws to create openings in the head
figures, were invited. and belly for new components.
As we trail along, Jeremijenko pops her head
into the room designed as an art studio that How to Hack a Robot Dog
serves as the student’s shared lab space. “Will There are three basic upgrades. The first is to
you be ready in five minutes?” she asks. increase their range of motion. “This involves
Nobody answers. The students’ heads are gently amputating the legs,” Jeremijenko says,
focusing down on their robotic dogs, which “and lowering the center of gravity, as well as
suffer a variety of last-minute problems. Some widening the wheel base.” A simple way to do
students are soldering. Others are twisting wires. that is to fit the robotic dog onto a chassis of a
When Jeremijenko asks the same question used RC car, as Chien’s group did. The second
again, the resounding reply is “No.” upgrade is to give the dog a better brain. The
“We have to hurry,” she urges them, knowing that class used the Cockroach II microcontroller and
there are people waiting at the landfill. Tristan wrote some C code and then found a way to
Shone, the teaching assistant, shuttles from one attach the logic board to the dog. The goal is to
group to the next trying to figure out which dogs have the dog’s brain follow its nose, which is the
are close to working and which are unsalvageable. third upgrade, a nose that can sniff out environ-Jeremijenko returns to her own office, which mental toxins. Each dog was outfitted with a
is filled with dozens of robotic dogs and a real sensor that measures the amount of solvent vapor
white rabbit. “I feed her the same food I eat,” in the air. Depending on the level of toxicity, the
she remarks. sensor will output a different voltage.
The nine students work for about three to four
weeks on the project after first locating their
abandoned dogs. They consult web pages that SNOOP DOGS: Jeremijenko’s students
tell them how to find dogs and upgrade them, release their hacked dogs at San Diego’s
based on instructions Jeremijenko created Misson Bay Landfill.
initially, and which have been improved upon by
others and shared over the internet. 1. Steven Chien makes a last minute adjustment
Student John Calmeyer wrote in the class on his feral robotic dog before letting it loose on
wiki: “I went to Goodwill and bought one of the a landfill in San Diego.
really ugly Dalmation Tekno dogs for $4.93. I was
surprised to find out it even worked, which is to 2. Best in Show! This hacked i-Cybie was
say that when I switched the on/off switch, it the only feral robot dog to successfully sniff
hobbled forward and wagged its lone remaining out the source of gas emanating from a
ear.” Perversely, he named it “Kitty-Kitty.” pressurized tank.
Another student, Steven Chien, bought an
i-Cybie for $55 on eBay, while Candice Storey 3. John Calmeyer (left) and Jeff Miao (right)
took a trip home to adopt her little sister’s Tekno. answer questions from television reporters
This Christmas present sat on the shelf for covering the event.
several years after her little sister “turned out to
be a live cat person.” 4. Jeff Miao’s furry robot gets off to a good start.
Jeff Miao bought a very furry dog known at
Toys ‘R’ Us as the TIGER GOGO My Talkin’ Pup 5. Dog chassis with hot wheels.
and which sells for $30. He named it “Mia Mia.” He had to perform major surgery on his dog, but >>