New Technology Lets Humans and Dogs Communicate

Most pet owners say their dogs understand them when they speak. Stefano Mortellaro/Flickr

Nearly 70 percent of pet owners say they understand their animals’ barks, purrs and other sounds, according to an Associated Press poll, and 62 percent claim their pets understand them when they speak.

While experts say it’s not unusual for people and their pets to understand some of each other’s speech, it’s impossible for us to communicate perfectly. However, North Carolina State University researchers are hoping to change that.

The scientists have developed a set of technologies to improve our ability to communicate with man’s best friend.

They created a harness-mounted computer equipped with sensors that monitor everything from a dog’s activity to its heart rate and body temperature. The sensors collect information on both the dog’s physical health, as well as its emotional state.

“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,” David Roberts, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, told NC State News. “So we can determine when they’re sitting, standing, running even when they’re out of sight.”

The harness also contains speakers and vibrating motors, which enable researchers to communicate with the dog wearing it.

“We developed software to collect, interpret and communicate those data, and to translate human requests into signals on the harness,” said Rita Brugarolas, an NC State Ph.D. student.

Researchers say the harness could be helpful in training pets, as well as service dogs and search-and-rescue dogs.

The device can also be customized with additional technologies 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,” said Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering.

This isn't the first time man has attempted to create a device to communicate with canines.

Last year, an Indiegogo campaign for "No More Woof," a headset that promises to translate dogs' thought patterns, went viral. The Scandinavian research lab behind the gadget raised more than twice its financial goal; however, no headset has been released yet.

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are working on wearable technology that would allow dogs to communicate crucial information to their handlers. The project, which is known as FIDO, or Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations, has applications for service dogs, bomb-sniffing dogs, and dogs that assist doctors in detecting cancer.