What if humans and dogs could better understand each other? Service dogs, rescue dogs, police dogs, even our pets: it opens up a much wider range of possibilities for working together.
A team at North Carolina State University has created a dog harness that employs a range of sensor technologies to interpret canine body language for humans, and human vocalisations for dogs.
"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."
For the dogs, which communicate with other dogs primarily using body language, the harness is fitted with a variety of sensors that can ascertain the dog's posture, and whether it is running, sitting or standing. Heart rate and body temperature sensors also monitor a dog's emotional state, which can help a human understand its behaviour, and also help mitigate the dog's stress levels and improve its quality of life. These signals are transmitted wirelessly via a mounted computer the size of a deck of cards.
In return, the harness is also fitted with speakers and haptics, so that when a human gives a command, that can be translated into a sensation via the harness that the dog understands more easily than a word.
The harness, currently in prototype form, could also be adapted for 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," Dr Bozkurt said.
The device has already been used to assist in dog training; the next step is miniaturising the technologies and improving the sensors, adapting them for use in animal shelters and hospitals.
The full study, "Towards Cyber-Enhanced Working Dogs for Search and Rescue", can be found online in the journal IEEE Intelligent Systems.