Harness lets dogs and humans communicate

The Cyber-Enhanced Working Dog could make search and rescue missions safer and more effective

By Joanna Rothkopf
Published November 6, 2014 9:30PM (EST)
      (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-428239p1.html'>Ermolaev Alexander</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(Ermolaev Alexander via Shutterstock)

When I attempt to communicate with a dog, it typically involves me staring deep into his or her eyes and imagining a conversation we might have: "Are you afraid of outer space?" I would ask. "What is outer space?" he would answer.

Anyway, all of that is antiquated because researchers at North Carolina State University have invented a dog harness called the Cyber-Enhanced Working Dog, which uses sensors to analyze a dog's "behavioral signals" and lets humans send more accurate commands. The harness was invented to help with training and search and rescue operations, among other uses.

"It's a communication platform that is designed specifically to provide two-way remote computer-mediated communication between handlers and their dogs," said David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State, in an interview with NPR.

NPR's Samantha Raphelson explains how the device works:

A small computer on the harness called BeagleBone Black monitors the dog's movement, emotional state and outside environment. Information is wirelessly transmitted back to the handler, who can interpret it from a distance.

Sensors read the dog's heart rate and body temperature to determine its emotional state, such as if the dog is stressed...

Human commands are translated for the dog through speakers and vibrating motors on the harness. Roberts says dogs would be trained to respond to nearly 100 different signals in the same way they respond to voice and hand commands.

"You're never going to replace the human element of search and rescue" said Roberts. "What we're really trying to do is help these dogs be safer and more efficient in doing their jobs. We are not enabling dogs to go into situations that are more dangerous than they were going into before."

Joanna Rothkopf

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Communication Dogs Humans Innovation Science