For a long, long time, humans have been trying to figure out how to better communicate with our dogs. Thanks to technology, some gadgets have come along — like the questionable “No More Woof” translation device that has now received more than $22,000 in online funding (a sucker apparently is born every minute) — but none of them have proven to actually work. As far as understanding each other, if men are from Mars and women from Venus, then dogs continue to be from, well, Pluto.
But perhaps that could change with a prototype canine communication harness created by a research team at North Carolina State University.
“We’ve developed a platform for computer-mediated communication between humans and dogs that opens the door to new avenues for interpreting dogs’ behavioral signals and sending them clear and unambiguous cues in return,” Dr. David Roberts (in the photo), an assistant professor of computer science and co-lead author of the paper Towards Cyber-Enhanced Working Dogs for Search and Rescue, said in a press release.
“We have a fully functional prototype, but we’ll be refining the design as we explore more and more applications for the platform.”
The researchers developed the harness to create “a cyber-enabled computer-mediated communication platform to connect human and canine intelligence to achieve a new generation of cyber-enhanced working dog (CEWD),” according to the paper, which was published last month in IEEE Intelligent Systems.
The harness has sensors that determine the wearer’s posture and physical activity (or lack thereof), as well as sensors that keep track of the dog’s heart rate and body temperature. It includes a small computer (about the size of a deck of cards) through which signals from the sensors are wirelessly transmitted. It is also fitted with speakers and haptics that transforms voice commands from humans into physical sensations.
Additional sensors may be added to the harness.
“For example, for search and rescue, we’ve added environmental sensors that can detect hazards such as gas leaks, as well as a camera and microphone for collecting additional information,” said Dr. Alper Bozkurt, a co-author of the paper, in the press release.
According to the paper, “Using cyberphysical systems to supplement and augment the two-way information exchange between human handlers and dogs would amplify the remarkable sensory capacities of search-and-rescue dogs to let them save more lives.”
The device could help handlers better monitor all working dogs’ stress levels, which in turn could help prolong the dogs’ lives, said paper co-author Sean Mealin.
“It’s an important issue,” he said — especially for guide dogs, who “are bred and trained not to display signs of stress in their behavior.”
The research team has started the process of miniaturizing the technologies and improving the sensors so the harness can also be worn by pets in animal shelters and veterinary hospitals.
“This platform is an amazing tool, and we’re excited about using it to improve the bond between dogs and their humans,” said Dr. Barbara Sherman, a clinical professor of animal behavior and co-author of the paper.
Photo credit: North Carolina State University