Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Wearable technology for dogs? Researchers are working on big things

Flickr photo by Bob Haarmans

Wearable technology is a hot topic right now, and for good reason: It's designed to make life easier and more productive. It's a boon to many, and though it's not a topic that I ever thought that I would be writing about when it comes to dogs, here I am.

When you think of wearable technology, what comes to mind? Google Glass? FitBit?

The advances that are here are pretty interesting to say the least, and the current trends were debated as far as usefulness and safety on a recent segment of the Diane Rehm Show. 

Where this technology is going is exciting, and it goes beyond the FitBit-like Whistle, now available for dogs. 

One application of wearable technology that's piqued my interest for obvious reasons, was with the use of dogs with jobs: those certified as service dogs, sniffing out bombs, cadavers and live victims of catastrophes. 

Thad Starner, technical lead/manager of Google's Project Glass and director of the Contextual Computing Group at Georgia Tech expanded on just one idea during the show that can help with the process of search and recovery efforts.  

Starner discussed his part in 'facilitating interactions for dogs with occupations', or FIDO during the show.

FIDO's purpose is to develop wearable technology to help dogs with jobs convey information more effectively with their handlers. 

What else do they have in store?  

FIDO's others teammates — also with Georgia Tech — associate professor and director of BrainLab Melody Jackson and Clint Zeagler, a research scientist focused on textiles are equally teeming with ideas. 

The team is working to fine tune search and rescue efforts, for example.

"We're making basically vests for these dogs with textiles and sensors in them where, you know, if you have, say, a dog who's out on a search and rescue mission, say, in the mountains in the Sierra Nevadas and you're looking for a lost child," noted Starner. 

(Click here for a transcript of the show.)

Jackson saw that wearable technology could be very useful in this field. 

Currently, search and rescue dogs need to work an area that's within the line of sight of their handler, recognizing hand and voice signals – and using a unit called a bringsel (a device that hangs from the dog's collar). When the canine locates a person, for example, they put the bringsel into their mouth and run to the handler to signal to them. 

"But what if that bringsel was electronic? And if the dog hit it, it would geolocate to a GPS satellite and tell the whole team, the rescue team, the handler, everybody exactly where that person was at that moment," said Jackson in an interview with

"And then the dog could stay with the person and do whatever needs to happen with that person until the team got there."

Other applications bring explored include fine-tuning the abilities of assistance dogs to communicate with their handlers. 

Jackson, who has also trained canines for assistance dog work since 1995, sees many enhanced possibilities in this area, and canines trained in assisting the hearing impaired is just one.

"You can train the dogs to differentiate the sounds, in fact we’re doing that right now with one of our demo dogs, and then they could press a different button the vest for different sounds so you’d know that it’s the tornado siren," continued Jackson.

"So the dog could say, 'That’s the tornado siren,' and the owner could make a much better decision on how to react."

Click here for more on wearable technology and dogs, including where it might go in helping bomb-sniffing dogs do their jobs. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comment!