New tech aims to improve communication between dogs and humans

October 30, 2014
Researchers at NC State University have developed a high-tech harness that is equipped with a suite of technologies to enhance communication between dogs and humans, with applications in everything from search and rescue to service dogs to training our pets. Credit: North Carolina State University

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a suite of technologies that can be used to enhance communication between dogs and humans, which has applications in everything from search and rescue to service dogs to training our pets.

"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 a paper on the work. "We have a fully functional prototype, but we'll be refining the design as we explore more and more applications for the platform."

The platform itself is a harness that fits comfortably onto the dog, and which is equipped with a variety of technologies.

"There are two types of communication technologies," says Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State and co-lead author of a paper on the work. "One that allows us to communicate with the dogs, and one that allows them to communicate with us."

"Dogs communicate primarily through body language, and one of our challenges was to develop sensors that tell us about their behavior by observing their posture remotely," Roberts says. "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," Roberts adds.

"We developed software to collect, interpret and communicate those data, and to translate human requests into signals on the harness," says Rita Brugarolas, an NC State Ph.D. student and co-author of the paper.

The technology also includes physiological sensors that monitor things like heart rate and body temperature. The sensors not only track a dog's physical well-being, but can offer information on a dog's emotional state, such as whether it is excited or stressed.

These technologies form the core of the platform, but it can be customized with additional devices depending on the specific application.

"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," Bozkurt says.

"We're also very interested in addressing stress in working dogs, such as guide dogs for the blind," says Sean Mealin, an NC State Ph.D. student and co-author of the paper. "We're reliant on the physiological and behavioral sensors to give us a picture of the dog's mental and emotional state.

"This can help handlers identify and mitigate stress for the dogs, improving the length and quality of a dog's life," Mealin adds. "It's an important issue. Particularly because guide dogs are bred and trained not to display signs of stress in their behavior."

In addition to disaster response research, the research team has already done work that uses the platform to assist in dog training. They are now in the early stages of miniaturizing 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 and their humans," says Dr. Barbara Sherman, a clinical professor of animal behavior at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine and co-author of the paper.

Explore further: Dogs, technology and the future of disaster response

More information: The paper, "Towards Cyber-Enhanced Working Dogs for Search and Rescue," is published online in IEEE Intelligent Systems.

Related Stories

Dogs, technology and the future of disaster response

May 6, 2014

Imagine a team of humans, dogs, robots and drones swooping onto the scene in the aftermath of a disaster and working together to find and rescue anyone trapped in collapsed buildings. That's the goal of a team of researchers ...

Dogs can be pessimists too

September 18, 2014

Dogs generally seem to be cheerful, happy-go-lucky characters, so you might expect that most would have an optimistic outlook on life.

Best way to train farm dogs has lessons for all dog training

September 2, 2014

Dogs provided with the best living conditions and kinder training methods are giving the best results in the workplace, according to a new study of farm dogs from the University of Sydney's Faculty of Veterinary Science.

Research paves way for development of cyborg moth 'biobots'

August 20, 2014

North Carolina State University researchers have developed methods for electronically manipulating the flight muscles of moths and for monitoring the electrical signals moths use to control those muscles. The work opens the ...

Recommended for you

A not-quite-random walk demystifies the algorithm

December 15, 2017

The algorithm is having a cultural moment. Originally a math and computer science term, algorithms are now used to account for everything from military drone strikes and financial market forecasts to Google search results.

US faces moment of truth on 'net neutrality'

December 14, 2017

The acrimonious battle over "net neutrality" in America comes to a head Thursday with a US agency set to vote to roll back rules enacted two years earlier aimed at preventing a "two-speed" internet.

FCC votes along party lines to end 'net neutrality' (Update)

December 14, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission repealed the Obama-era "net neutrality" rules Thursday, giving internet service providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T a free hand to slow or block websites and apps as they see fit ...

The wet road to fast and stable batteries

December 14, 2017

An international team of scientists—including several researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory—has discovered an anode battery material with superfast charging and stable operation ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.