Image from Disney Pixar's Up
Back in the golden age of television, Lassie would come bounding into the house and start barking urgently at her family to alert them to… stuff. They would guess at what she was trying to convey by saying, “What is it girl? Is it Timmy? Has he fallen down the well? Has he joined a motorcycle gang? Is he trafficking rare objects from Aztec ruins? DAMMIT, DOG! STOP BARKING AND TALK TO ME!!!”
Well, Lassie never had researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology working with her to tell her owners what the problem was. But working dogs today may soon be able to be outfitted with vests and sensors that allow them to “talk” to their owners and handlers.
This is pretty cool. According to CNN, the dog wears a vest with sensors on it to trigger communications to a smartphone. Depending on what sensor the dog nudges or bites, the dog’s handler will receive a specific message. For example, with bomb sniffing dogs working for the military, the message might convey what type of explosive he’s found so the human team knows how to approach it.
Melody Jackson, the lead researcher on the project, sees applications of this technology for service dogs and personal dogs as well.
"A hearing dog helps someone who's deaf, so they alert to things like the doorbell ringing or the baby crying or someone calling your name," Jackson tells CNN. "What they'll do is nudge their owner and take them to the source of the sound... What if that sounds is a tornado siren? That's just in the environment. The dog has no way to lead you to the source of that sound.”
And we don’t have to worry about dogs being too dumb to master the technology. Jackson has been using her own Border Collie as a test subject. She thinks any trainable dog could pick up the skills needed in a matter of seconds.
Now, if you need me, I’m going to see if I can rig something similar for my dog so she can tell me if she’s barking at real danger or just a cheeky squirrel.