Smart harness to help dogs and humans communicate

A smart harness has been developed to improve communication between dogs and humans by US researchers.

A group of engineers at North Carolina State University have developed a smart harness that features a computer-equipped backpack fitted comfortably on the dog’s back. One of the prototypes also comes with a twin battery, a webcam, vibrating motors and a wireless USB adapter. Using a tablet to send signals to the harness and the dog, the researchers were able to see how the dog reacted and interpreted different ways of communication.

David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science working on the project, said: “We are developing what we are referring to as a ‘smart harness’ and you can think of it as a platform for two-way computer-mediated communication between dogs and handlers.”

As part of the trials, a dog called Diesel was trained to associate the vibrations on its sides with signals given by Roberts. The vibrations were prompted by a command on the tablet instructing the dog to turn. Robert then used his hand to reinforce the direction intended by what was being transmitted.

“We’re using this technology to ask some very fundamental questions about the nature of the way that animals can perceive computer-mediated communications and the way they can interact with computers in order to send signals across wireless communication links to handlers,” Roberts told Reuters.

The harness can also feed information back to the handler including whether it’s standing, sitting, walking or running. It can also monitor the heart rate and transmit the data to assess the dog’s physical condition.

Barbara Sherman, a clinical professor of behavioural medicine, said: “Just as one example, 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.

“Is it overheating? Is it in a safe area? So 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.”

Alpert Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, said: “Our dream is to give people the capability to train their dogs like professionals at home, so that the pets can be turned into working animals.

“For example, for search and rescue, when there's a big disaster in an urban environment, hundreds of houses collapsed, and there are only a certain number of trained dogs, so this would give us the capability to train more and more dogs for such purposes.”

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