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JoAnna Lou
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Google Glass Technology for Dogs
New research works on communication between working pups and their handlers

Most days I feel like I have a good idea of what my dogs are thinking (and it usually involves food and tennis balls!). After living with an animal for so long, you develop ways of communicating, even if you don't speak the same language. But there are also many times when I wish my dogs could tell me exactly what they want or how they're feeling, and vice versa.

What animal lover didn't watch the Pixar animated film, Up, and wish they had one of those collars that allowed the dogs to converse with the humans? It may seem like something out of science fiction, but it's exactly the kind of technology that a team at Georgia Tech is trying to develop.

The project, led by Dr. Melody Jackson, is called FIDO for Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations, The team is trying to develop wearable technology to make it easier for assistance and military dogs to communicate with their handlers.

Dr. Jackson is a director at Georgia Tech's BrainLab, as well as an assistance puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence. She has been trying to understand brain signals through sensors to use the information to build computer interfaces for people with disabilities. Dr. Jackson came up with the idea to combine wearable technology with working pups while collaborating with Thad Starner, a member of her team who worked on Google Glass, the infamous “computer glasses.".

In their prototype, the dog would wear a vest with sensors that interpret behavior and send communication signals to people. For the past several months, Dr. Jackson's team has been testing the sensors, which are linked to both natural and trained behaviors that would allow the dogs to have a larger and more specific vocabulary. The next step will be to connect these sensored behaviors with something meaningful, such as spoken words.

The goal is to help working dogs communicate more effectively. For instance, military dogs who previously could only give a general bomb warning could tell their handlers what type of bomb they're detecting. A seeing eye dog would not only be able to alert their handler to an obstacle ahead, but communicate what needs to be done to get past the obstacle.  

The team believes that the possibilities are endless.  What do you wish your dog could tell you?

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Adil Dellawalla.

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