Clever new haptic vest could let rescue dogs take commands from miles away

Dogs are incredibly smart animals. They can be trained to carry out tasks in response to everything from spoken words or whistles to visual cues. At Ben-Gurion University in Israel, researchers have been working to add one more mode of interaction to the list: Giving dogs a haptic jacket that can be used to provide instructions through specific vibrations. In doing so, it could be possible to communicate information to dogs using the click of a mouse or the tap of a mobile device in scenarios when other forms of communication are not available. (Think long-distances or scenarios in which a person has a disability that makes speaking or executing hand gestures impossible!)

“We developed a dog vest that has four embedded vibration motors,” researcher Yoav Golan, who worked on the project, told Digital Trends. “Each of these motors can be controlled separately, and are programmed to perform preset vibration patterns, based on an input signal from a remote control.”

The team used their prototype device to demonstrate that it is possible for dogs to learn multiple haptic commands in a way that could prove useful.

“We taught a dog four commands that have haptic cues, intentionally removing any spatial significance,” Goland continued. “[For example,] we didn’t want to have a vibration on the dog’s right side to mean the dog should go right, or vibration on its left side to mean ‘go left,’ but rather selected commands that have no special spatial significance, such as ‘come to me,’ which is associated with a pulsing vibration on the dog’s front-left side.”

Dror Einav

They also demonstrated that dogs could tell the difference between two different-but-similar signal patterns at the same location. For instance, they taught the dog a “spin” command, as well as a “walk backward” command. The first of these was signified by a constant vibration on its front-right side. The second was signified by a pulsing vibration at the same location. The dog was successfully able to distinguish between the two commands, showing that a small number of motors can be used to transmit a potentially large number of different commands.

Next up, the researchers aim to test out the technology on a large number of dogs of varying breeds, ages and training backgrounds. This will give a better idea of how quick dogs are to learn haptic commands, what type of commands are easier to distinguish, and details such as how different types of fur affect received sensations.

Who knows: if all goes well, maybe it won’t be too long before you can buy a vest like this at your local pet store. Then all you’ll have to do is train your beloved pooch to understand the commands …

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