Dog tech (1) : The internet of connected things .

Just before Christmas I was sent a “Furbo” to evaluate and comment upon. In case you haven’t heard of  the Furbo this is a wifi  enabled remote controlled camera and treat dispenser through which  you can hear , speak to and see your dog and with a swipe of a button on your smart phone  fire a treat to your pet from anywhere in the world. After  less than two minutes our two GSDs had learnt that the whistle emanating from the Furbo presaged the arrival of a piece of kibble fired at a random distance  across the  room.

For more information on the Furbo please see part two of the Dog tech blog

 Other similar makes include a laser pointer  with which to interact with your dog though I suspect this would be of more use to the cat owner than a dog owner. This led me to wonder what else is in the tech world for dogs and their owners and what we can expect in the future  which will benefit  ourselves and our canine companions.

Tech toys include a remote controlled  bone which includes a camera  and moves randomy around the room  and can be switched on or off by smartphone or else left to roam all day. These toys are meant o entertain our bored dogs  whilst we are out at work, but I feel are really to assuage our guilt at leaving them alone. Technology offerings for dogs are significantly increasing, for example wearable pet technology is projected to grow by 16% by 2020 (Technavio, 2017). Crowdfunding dog technology, such as for PlayDate , a wifi enabled play ball highlights considerable consumer demand for tech toys. Broadly speaking the category of tech for dogs  can be divided with some overlap into three categories: Tracking, Monitoring ,and Interactive Play.

GPS monitors can be worn on collars  and can enable lost dogs to be found  or even to set alerts for owners to be notified if they go beyond  a selected boundary. Microchip sensors can be programmed for entry systems to give or deny access to areas, indeed one Swedish company  now have their workers “chipped” to allow keyless entry to specific areas and therefore it would be possible to use the implanted chip in a dog for similar access. Imagine that access for assistance dogs and their owners  could be read automatically in public buildings or transport hubs ? Gone would be the perennial problem of the bogus assistance dog claiming access. Perhaps the information on chips could be broadened to include training levels  whereby passes at Good Citizen awards etc  could give access to being off lead in public parks ? Simple RFID chips and  readers such as those used in contactless payments  could be used  for a whole range of services for our dogs. Some tracking technologies incorporate health and activity monitoring, enabling the owner to monitor their dog’s activity levels and health (Whistle, 2017). Fitbark (Fitbark, 2017) provides the dog’s ‘health’ profile, monitoring activity levels, quality of sleep, distance travelled, calories burned, and overall health and behaviour 24/7. So just like you, your dog can have their own quantified self, with the opportunity to share data with clinicians. On a societal level if a disease such as rabies broke out then it would be critical to know which dogs had already been vaccinated. Again this type of information could be recorded on the chip and be easily read, stored and retrieved . Real time monitoring of blood pressure , temperature , weight and activity , chemical analyses of blood and other secretions are already technically available for different farmed species and it surely can’t be too long before their introduction to companion animals allowing “real time” monitoring . Alerts via text messaging to owner and or vet could lead to early interventions or in the case of assistance dogs or Guide dogs allow the charity to identify the interruption of use  of a valuable asset either by non-use or incapacity of the user. Interactive play technology for the bored dog ranges from the passive Furbo  to  the learning theory based Clever pet system which uses a ‘keypad’ providing a game-based approach for dogs where treats are provided in response to game-winning actions, based on the use of lit touch pads. The games range from the dog selecting any pad to following a longer complex sequence as pads light up. Again, this is for the dog that is home alone with the owner able to get live updates of whether the dog is engaging, resetting games levels through their mobile device.

However, the drawback to these interactive toys such as the ball or bone and  are simply that experience shows that for the dog, toys themselves stop being rewarding after a few minutes of play unless the owner is also involved. Play levels with toys  by lone dogs tends to fall off rapidly after 6 months , and older dogs in general produce toys etc  in order to stimulate interaction with their owner . This is often rewarded by the owner playing with the dog or more often patting and stroking the dog. Down the line may come the Hapatic coat for dogs which would allow the dog to be petted remotely ( it already exists for chickens!). At the  moment some service dogs are wearing such coats and have been trained to perform certain behaviours  controlled by differing vibrations on different  parts of the body. Coats with different interactive sensors  have been produced with which the dog can communicate remotely with its handler : a search and rescue dog out of sight of its handler can bite or pull a sensor on its harness when it finds a body which in turn signals the position of the dog and body. Similarly seizure alert dogs  can be trained to activate  the correct sensor to link to an owners  mobile phone to text emergency services or relative with location and details. By adding different trigger points a service dog can communicate a range of information to its handler by choosing  the relevant  sensor site.

As miniaturisation of sensors and battery  life improves the future for wearable or implantable  technology for our dogs will undoubtedly lead to developments which we can hardly contemplate at the present. Training your dog may be computer guided, with  accuracy of behavioural response is assessed by microprocessors and  the critical timing of reward computer controlled . We may yet see another meaning to the phrase “Byte Control” !

Mancini, Clara; Lawson, Shaun and Juhlin, Oskar (2017). Animal-Computer Interaction: the emergence of a discipline. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 98 pp. 129–134.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree: A Qualitative Study of the Potential for Dog-Owner Technology Lynne Hall Sharon McDonald Shell Young  University of Sunderland

Lee, P., Cheok, D., James, S., Debra, L., Jie, W., Chuang, W., & Farbiz, F. (2006). A mobile pet wearable computer and mixed reality system for human–poultry interaction through the internet. Personal and Ubiquitous Computing, 10(5), 301-317.

Jackson, M. M., Zeagler, C., Valentin, G., Martin, A., Martin, V., Delawalla, A., Blount, W., Eiring, S., Hollis, R., & Starner, T. (2013). FIDO-facilitating interactions for dogs with occupations: wearable dog-activated interfaces.