They say a dog is man’s best friend… but a new project at North Carolina State University aims to strengthen the renowned bond even further.
Researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine and the computer science and electrical engineering departments have developed new technology that allows dogs to communicate better with their human handlers. In turn, humans gain a greater insight into how dogs react to communication and interpret it.
It’s called a “smart harness,” according to Dr. David Roberts, Assistant Professor of Computer Science. His dog, Diesel, is part of the trial, and is fitted with a computerized backpack.
Roberts says the harness is “a platform for two-way, computer-mediated communication between dogs and handlers.” It does that through vibrating motors, similar to the ones that make cellphones vibrate, plus a webcam, speakers, and other technologies.
For example, a tablet was used to send a vibrating buzz to Diesel’s harness to see how the dog responds to directional commands, and how he associates it with Roberts’ hand signals. The vibration prompt came on the side of the body that Roberts’ wanted Diesel to turn to. Roberts then reinforced the message with his hand.
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The Technology Stretches Beyond in-Home Pet Training
The technology’s current primary purpose is giving people extra tools to help train dogs as pets and communicate with them better. But the researchers say it serves other functions, too.
For example, it can be used to observe a dog’s health and well-being. Another prototype of the harness is equipped with electrocardiography electrodes that monitor a dog’s heart rate, and sends the data back to a tablet.
Dr. Barbara Sherman, Clinical Professor of Behavioral Medicine at NCSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, says it allows humans to see if the dog is “overheating.” She states, “This project gives us the capability for the dog to inform us of that sort of information and for us to evaluate the dog’s welfare. With interfaces on the dog, we can keep the dog safer and be more sensitive to the subtle information that the dog is communicating to us.”
In addition, Dr. Alper Bozkurt, Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, says, “Our dream is to give people the capability to train their dogs like professionals at home, so they can be turned into working animals.”
And he says it could go further, being used to train search-and-rescue dogs: “When there’s a big disaster in an urban environment, hundreds of houses collapsed, and there’s only a certain number of trained dogs, this would give us the capability to train more and more dogs for such purposes.”
And I thought Cesar Millan was the only “Dog Whisperer.” Looks like he’s got some new competition!