Today’s Solutions: November 30, 2021

Dog owners know that even though their furry companions can’t speak, they all find unique and innovative ways to communicate with their humans.

Now, researchers have developed a device, nicknamed the DogPhone, which offers a way for canines at home to reach their owners while they’re out.

How does the DogPhone work?

For pups to give their owners a call, all they must do is pick up or move the device, which is a soft ball. When the DogPhone is moved, it sends a signal to a laptop that launches a video call, as well as the sound of a ringing phone.

It’s up to the owner whether they take the call, and if they do take the call, it’s also up to the owner to hang up. Owners can also ring up their pets, but the dog has to move the ball again to answer it.

“All this [existing] technology allows you to measure your pets’ steps or ring your pets or remotely give your dog food, but your dog doesn’t really have any choices,” says Dr. Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas from the University of Glasgow, the first author of the research used to make the device. According to Hirskyj Douglas, giving animals some choice and control has been shown to boost their welfare and wellbeing.

“This is just one way to demonstrate that dogs can control technology,” she adds. “We can build technology for dogs.”

Although there isn’t yet a social media platform for dogs, Hirskyj-Douglas believes that one day, it may be possible for dogs to call each other, saying that “There’s so many different possibilities that you could have.”

The process of selecting which object Hirskyj-Douglas’ team would use to create the DogPhone was a careful one. The device itself underwent several iterations and a 16-day testing period with Hirskyj-Douglas and her nine-year-old black Labrador, Zack, before the team determined that the soft ball had the right level of sensitivity towards movement.

The diary that details what happens during the calls between owner and pet suggests that Zack was still getting the hang of the system, despite having been shown five times how it worked. That said, this interpretation may simply be biased due to the human perspective. One of the entries reads: “For example, when the dog triggered the system with their butt, this could have been deliberate and the dog’s unique way of triggering an interaction.”

In any case, the continued development of such technology could benefit pets, especially those that struggle with separation anxiety.

Above all, the creation of the DogPhone was about “giving dogs a choice,” explains Hirskyj-Douglas. “We may not understand the choice that they’re making. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a choice.”

Source study: Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery on Computer-Human InteractionForming the dog internet: Prototyping a dog-to-human video call device

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