Professor David Roberts with one of his research associates [Credit: NC State]

Remote communication between dogs and humans

A suite of technologies for enhancing communication between dogs and humans could be used for everything from search and rescue to training pets.

The platform, developed by North Carolina State University computer science researchers, is a harness that fits comfortably onto the dog and features a host of technology to enable two-way remote communication between a dog and its handler.

“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,” said Professor David Roberts, co-lead author of a paper on the work published in journal IEEE Intelligent Systems.

“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.”

The researchers have developed software to collect, interpret and communicate data from the variety of sensors attached to the platform and also to translate human requests into signals for the haptic system.

The technology also includes physiological sensors that monitor things like heart rate and body temperature to track a dog’s physical well-being, but also offer information on a dog’s emotional state, such as whether it is excited or stressed.

The team already has a fully functioning prototype featuring the technologies of the platform and they are now experimenting with customising it with additional devices for more specific applications.

“For example, for search and rescue we’ve added environmental sensors that can detect hazards such as gas leaks, as well as a camera and microphone for collecting additional information,” said Professor Alper Bozkurt, co-lead author of the study.

In addition to disaster response research, the research team has already done work that uses the platform to assist in dog training and they are now in the early stages of miniaturising the technologies and improving the physiological sensors for use in animal shelters and hospitals.

“This platform is an amazing tool, and we’re excited about using it to improve the bond between dogs and their humans,” said Dr Barbara Sherman, a clinical professor of animal behaviour at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of the paper.

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