Researchers at North Carolina State University have come up with a way to make talking dogs, such as the one featured in Pixar and Disney’s animated film Up, a closer reality. While they haven’t developed a fantastical collar to give canines a literal voice, they have created a multifunctional harness that can improve communication between humans and dogs.
“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,” says Dr. David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-lead author of “Towards Cyber-Enhanced Working Dogs for Search and Rescue,” a paper about the work.
The prototype harness, called Cyber-Enhanced Working Dog, is akin to a small backpack for a dog, aims to enable humans to communicate with dogs via speakers and vibrating motors (haptic feedback) placed in eight spots on the harness to essentially translate human instructions. Roberts says dogs would be trained to respond to nearly 100 different signals.
The 4-pound harness is also meant to enable dogs to passively “communicate” with humans by way of a small computer called BeagleBone Black, which is about the size of a deck of cards. The computer allows humans to track what the dog is doing (e.g., running, sitting, standing) when they’re out of sight, while physiological sensors monitor the dog’s heart rate and body temperature, which can convey the dog’s physical health and emotional state.
The Cyber-Enhanced Working Dog, which has a battery life of about eight hours, can be customized for different use cases. For instance, if a dog is heading into a search and rescue mission, sensors can be attached to detect gas leaks, and a camera and microphone can be used to gather more information.
The apparatus can also be used to track the stress of guide dogs for the blind. Tracking stress levels is important for working dogs, since easing stress can improve and lengthen a dog’s life, according to the researchers.
Roberts and his team have plans to make smaller versions of the harness to fit smaller dogs.