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.
They’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 said Dr. David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-lead author of a paper on the work. They have a fully functional prototype, but they’ll be refining the design as they explore more and more applications for the platform.
The platform itself is a harness that fits comfortably onto the dog, and which is equipped with a variety of technologies.
There are two types of communication technologies, one that allows us to communicate with the dogs, and one that allows them to communicate with us.
Dogs communicate primarily through body language, and one of our challenges was to develop sensors that tell us about their behavior 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, they’ve incorporated speakers and vibrating motors, called haptics, into the harness, which enable them to communicate with the dogs.
They have also developed software to collect, interpret and communicate those data, and to translate human requests into signals on the harness.
The technology 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.
These technologies form the core of the platform, but it can be customized with additional devices depending on the specific application.
Researchers are also very interested in addressing stress in working dogs, such as guide dogs for the blind. This can help handlers identify and mitigate stress for the dogs, improving the length and quality of a dog’s life which is an important issue. Particularly because guide dogs are bred and trained not to display signs of stress in their behavior.
In addition to disaster response research, the research team has already done work that uses the platform to assist in dog training. They are now in the early stages of miniaturizing the technologies and improving the physiological sensors for use in animal shelters and hospitals.
The platform is an amazing tool to improve the bond between dogs and their humans.
The paper, “Towards Cyber-Enhanced Working Dogs for Search and Rescue,” is published online in IEEE Intelligent Systems. The paper was co-authored by NC State Ph.D. students John Majikes and Robert Loftin, and by former NC State Ph.D. student Dr. Pu Yang. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation under Cyber Physical System Program grant number 1329738.