My wife and I have a five year old golden retriever named Rasta. If you remember the friendly dog from the movie Up, that’s pretty much Rasta. She always has this broad Mickey Mouse grin on her face, she bounces up and down, and spins in circles when she gets excited (and she gets excited about everything), and she has a fixation for tennis balls that rivals Maggie Simpson’s for pacifiers. I suspect that Rasta has more friends (of the human variety) in our neighborhood than we do!
In Up, a lot of the dogs wore special collars that translated their thoughts into perfect English. My wife and I thought it would be hilarious if we could hear what Rasta was thinking - like many of the other dog owners we know, we often find ourselves narrating a stream of consciousness for our dog at the park or on walks, and most of our stories are probably way off base. It’d be cool to know how wrong we actually are about what our dog is thinking.
As it turns out, researchers at Georgia Tech have developed a new device that actually allows dogs to communicate more effectively with their handlers. Dubbed FIDO (for Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations, because every acronym needs to spell something clever), this system is designed primarily for working dogs like service animals, police dogs, bomb-sniffers, and the like. The dog wears a vest embedded with several sensors that can be activated using a dog’s normal range of behaviors (like panting and chewing), and triggering the sensors allows the dogs to send specific messages to their handlers. Since this is essentially wearable technology, some have compared FIDO to tools like Google Glass, which makes sense as one of the developers of Glass was involved with this project. I’d consider this to be closer to an augmented or alternative communication (AAC) device tailored specifically to canines, but I study language and language disorders, so I’m a bit biased as far as nomenclature.
So, while FIDO won’t turn your dog into Shakespeare, it will at least give him or her another tool for communicating with you. Sadly, the FIDO system is a ways off from being available commercially, but the fact that someone is working on this kind of tech is pretty cool. I may never know exactly what Rasta is thinking, unless of course there’s a tennis ball involved, or a steak, or a swimming pool, or a squirrel...
(Note: I definitely need to give credit to Andrew Tarantola from Gizmodo, for leading his post on FIDO with a picture of the dog [Dug] from Up. Thanks for the inspiration!)
Photo credit: Jim Kloet