North Carolina State University researchers use mobile technology to enable us to talk to the animals, and for them to talk to us
Dogs and humans are now able to communicate better thanks to a computer-equipped backback that uses mobile technologies. North Carolina State University researchers have developed a suite of technologies that can be used to enhance communication between dogs and humans, which has applications in everything from search and rescue to service dogs to training our pets.
The platform for computer-mediated communication between humans and dogs opens the door to new avenues for interpreting dogs’ behavioural signals and sending them clear and unambiguous cues in return.
Mounted in a harness to be worn by the dog, the platform is equipped with a variety of technologies. Using haptic sensors and wireless technology, humans can communicate with dogs, and dogs can communicate with humans.
Dr. David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at North Carolina State University and co-lead author of a paper on the work, commented in a video discussion with Reuters: “We’re using this technology to ask some very fundamental questions about the nature of the way that animals can perceive computer-mediated communications and the way they interact with computers, in order to send digital signals across wireless communication links to handlers.”
He commented in October when the University announced the project prototype: “Dogs communicate primarily through body language, and one of our challenges was to develop sensors that tell us about their behaviour by observing their posture remotely.
“So we can determine when they’re sitting, standing, running, etc, even when they’re out of sight, a harness-mounted computer the size of a deck of cards transmits those data wirelessly. At the same time, we’ve incorporated speakers and vibrating motors, called haptics, into the harness, which enable us to communicate with the dogs,” Roberts added.
Using web cams, speakers, and wireless adaptors, the platform also includes physiological sensors that monitor things like heart rate and body temperature. The sensors not only track a dog’s physical well-being, but can offer information on a dog’s emotional state, such as whether it is excited or stressed.
Dr Barbra Sherman, a clinical professor of animal behaviour at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of the paper on the platform, commented in the Reuters video that the ability to tell how a dog is feeling, as well as where it is, means handlers are able to ensure the safety and health of their dog better. She added: “…We can actively keep the dog safer and be more sensitive to the subtle information the dog is communicating to us.”
Additionally, the platform can be tailored to suit different working dog’s needs; for search and rescue, the researchers added environmental sensors that can detect hazards such as gas leaks, as well as a camera and microphone for collecting additional information.
The system can also be used to help owners of guide dogs understand what their dog is going through, as guide dogs are bred and trained not to display signs of stress in their behaviour.