Remember those trendy robotic dog toys from a couple years back? Aibo and Poo-chi and the like? Well, sadly, after 6-year-olds tire of the novelty of electronic pets who can fetch balls, bark the national anthem and do silly little dances, there is not much left in the life of a toy robotic dog. Thats why we love Natalie Jeremijenko’s awesome eco / educational / engineering / art project which teaches students how to refurbish old toy robotic dogs and give them new life – turning them into lean green pollution-sniffing machines.

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For the Feral Dogs project Jeremijenko has worked with numerous student groups to create packs of roving robo-dogs, which are “released” en masse into a community space to sniff out harmful VOCs, ozone, and other environmental toxins. The ‘packs’ of feral robotic dogs are designed to “patrol” sites of public interest like schools, parks, and industrial sites, in order to generate community and media attention on the issue on contaminants in the environment. Clever, cute, and fun – is this the coolest project ever or what?

+ Feral Robotic Dogs

I first heard about this project through the Cooper-Hewitt’s Design Triennial Exhibition (which is still up – go check it up before it ends in July). Imagine my surprise when reading about the Feral Dogs project I saw a giant photograph of Inhabitat’s own tech-guru Jeff Warren hanging on the wall of the Cooper-Hewitt. I’m not sure why this escaped our attention for so long, but 3 of the Inhabitat’s programmer possee (Vestal Design) were intimately involved in the beginning of the Feral Robotic Dog project with Natalie Jeremijenko: Jeff Warren, Diego Rotalde and Mike Lin – proving again that Vestal Design is the raddest bunch of eco-design-engineers on the planet.

In this video a student from the UCSD electronics department hacks a robot dog to sense pollution on the San Diego campus. The video is adorable – watch to see the dog bark at a dry-erase board marker!