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UWF Team Working on Next Generation of K-9 Surveillance

Public Radio International

Work is underway at the University of West Florida, on the next generation of video surveillance for both the nation’s military dogs, and canines used in first response.

The Guided Fur Missile Tactical Camera System is a part of UWF’s “Hacking for Defense” program. H4D began at Stanford University in 2016, and now is at around 50 universities nationwide.

“After I had read about it I thought UWF would be a great fit to offer a similar course, due to our geographic proximity to so many military installations. It took about nine months to get the class off the ground,” said Dr. Donovan Chau, who leads a three-student team in developing the technology.

The first team of students was formed two summers ago. This past summer, they began working on the GFMTCS project.

“UWF was the first in Florida to offer this course and one of the first dozen schools in the country, indeed in the world, and they’re expanding overseas,” Chau said. “Absolutely, this team worked very, very hard this summer. We did have another success from this summer but this one is very unique.”

“One of the most important things with this system is ensuring that it is capable of providing the video feed to the people who need it from the distances that they need it to operate at,” said team member Ty Faist. The device is a remotely viewable, extremely light-sensitive camera system that transmits the video back to the dog’s handler on a mobile device, such as a cellphone or tablet. Faist says one of the tests was conducted in a multi-story concrete and rebar reinforced structure.

Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
UWF Team developing new K-9 camera (L-R): Ty Faist, Trey Hilliard, team leader Dr. Donovan Chau.

“In which the handler and the animal were on the third floor of the structure,” said Faist. “And I actually walked outside on the ground floor and was able to pick up a video feed through more than 50 meters of material.”

No figures were mentioned, but Chau says they’re going after some other funding from both the military and civilian sectors.

“We have worked with the student team to apply for Air Force funding; we should find out in a few more weeks,” Chau said. “Also, UWF has authorized, but we haven’t implemented it yet, our own internal UWF funding furthering their initial prototyping efforts.”

Dogs in combat have gained a higher profile, thanks to last month’s killing of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi by U.S. Special Forces, which included a canine. The dog, Conan, was slightly injured in the raid, but is said to be back on active duty. Team member Ty Faist says Conan’s exploits have been a great source of pride and encouragement.

“It was definitely interesting to see the public reaction that everybody’s had for wanting to know more about the dog, and wanting to know what they do and how they work,” said Faist. “[It] has been incredibility gratifying to know that I’ve had the opportunity to work with those animals and see them in action before.”

“As we got into the course, this is something that a problem sponsor has passed down to the school, which was then given to us and that’s kind of how we went about solving the issues,” said team member and Air Force veteran Trey Hilliard.

“Essentially, it was the issues of having the ability to give these K-9 handlers enhanced situational awareness of what was going on with the K-9, regardless of the situation,” Hilliard said. “They just want to know what’s going on while the dog is out in front of them.”

It’s not so much the dog, says Hilliard, who did not work with K-9s in the Air Force, but rather fitting them with the new technology that passes on the information to their two-legged comrades.

“They’re already trained to do what they’re supposed to do – sniffing out bombs or humans or whatever it may be,” said Hilliard. “If you take into account, what if the dog runs into a human or something in the other room? It’s that enhanced situational awareness we’re trying to provide the handler.”

Team leader Dr. Donovan Chau says if the Air Force and UWF funding is delivered, this project has great commercial potential beyond the military. Agreeing is team member Ty Faist.

“You also have law enforcement agencies turning to them more and more for SWAT operations; using them in very similar capacities to what the military does,” Faist said. “First man in the door, they’ll send them in [sic] the building before any of the human handlers go in. You also have search-and-rescue groups that would love the ability to know exactly what their dog’s looking at.”

And to a man, the team says the camera they’re developing poses no additional hazard to the dogs wearing them – aside from what they’re already facing in combat and disaster zones.

Dave came to WUWF in September, 2002, after 14 years as News Director at the Alabama Radio Network in Montgomery, Mobile and Birmingham and a total of 27 years in commercial radio. He's also served as Alabama Bureau Chief for United Press International, and a stringer for the Birmingham Post-Herald.