Teaching old dogs new tricks with ‘smart harness’

North Carolina State University researchers have developed new technology designed to improve communication between dogs and humans. Nathan Frandino reports.

They say a dog is a man’s best friend, but at North Carolina State University, it’s also a man’s best lab partner.

Here researchers are dressing pooches with a computer-equipped backpack.

And Diesel here gets rewarded for his participation.

Assistant Professor Dr. David Roberts of Computer Science at North Carolina State University calls this prototype the “smart harness.”… “And you can think of the smart harness as a platform for two-way computer-mediated communication between dogs and handlers.”

The harness comes with a customizable assortment of technology, such as webcam, speakers and a wireless adapter.

Dr. David Roberts: “We’re using this technology to ask some very fundamental questions about the nature of the way that animals can perceive computer-mediated communications and the way they can interact with computers in order to send digital signals across wireless communication links to handlers.”

Here researchers are testing vibrating motors — which are used to make cell phones buzz — to help give directional commands.

Diesel adapted easily.

Clinical Professor Dr. Barbara Sherman of Behavioral Medicine at NCSU College of Veterinary Medicine says the technology also ensures safety.  “Is it overheating? Is it in a safe area? So with interfaces on the dog, we can keep the dog safer and be more sensitive to the subtle information that the dog is communicating to us.”

Another prototype features electrocardiography electrodes to monitor the dog’s heart rate.

And Simba here doesn’t seem to mind.

Assistant Professor Dr. Alpert Bozkurt of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NCSU hopes dog owners will also find this useful.  “And our dream is to give people the capability to train their dogs like professionals at home so that the pets can be turned into working animals.”

The team hopes to help hounds like Diesel enjoy their work, rest, and play…. ensuring that every dog has its day.

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