Google Glass Technology Lead Heads-Up 'FIDO Research' Team For Dog-Human Communication

Interest around Google Glass has revived the idea of wearable computing in many circles and inspired research into areas that might, at first glance, seem a bit far-fetched. One such program is FIDO -- Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations. The idea? Build a harness that would allow a dog to communicate with its handler remotely via wireless technology and possibly Google Glass.

Ridiculous, right? Not so fast. The head of the project, Kristof Van Laerhoven, has designed a canine harness that the dog with jaw-friendly handles that the dog can pull to transmit a tone, activate a sensor, or transmit a verbal command. No, you and Spot aren't going to have a long discussion on the merits of King Lear vs. Romeo and Juliet any time soon, but Van Laerhoven's concept could translate into a vastly expanded canine 'vocabulary.'

Von Laerhoven and his team constructed an Arduino-powered harness with four separate sensors that a dog could trigger by pushing, pulling, tugging, or putting their mouth nearby. They then attempted to teach the dogs to trigger a particular sensor when presented with a particular stimulus. The dogs had no trouble picking up the parameters and complying, clearly demonstrating that they understood which sensor needed to be triggered in different specific situations.

This could prove extremely useful in many of the areas where dogs are commonly used today. Dogs have been deployed as occupational aids for epileptic patients, bomb sniffing, herding animals, detecting intruders, and are used widely in rescue operations to locate injured people after major disasters. If they can be trained to give specific signals in response to stimuli, it could speed rescue efforts and serve as a better, more concrete warning or notification of an event. It could also allow a dog to signal its master or partner from a greater-than visual distance, improving flexibility.

Fidelity, I think, will ultimately determine how useful the technology turns out to be. Dogs can already be trained to react in certain ways when they detect an object or intruder -- triggering a tone could improve on that process, but only if it's adapted in a way that allows the dog to give a more exact interpretation of what it thinks it smells or sees. Still, it's an interesting and possibly quite useful application of existing technology.