Will a dog translation tool be the next technological breakthrough?

15/07/2013 | Rebecca Twose

With just two more years until we reach the date that Marty McFly travelled forwards through time to reach in Back to the Future II, the future has never seemed closer. Every day, new gadgets and gizmos are coming on to the market that not long ago would have been confined to science fiction.

One such case is FIDO, or Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations. Developed by the original technical lead on Google Glass and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology Thad Starner, it is hoped the gadget will allow working dogs to better communicate with their masters and handlers.

According to MIT’s Technology Review, Starner is joined on the project by visiting associate professor for the Georgia Institute of Technology Melody Jackson and Clint Zeagler, a research scientist. The aim is to create a wearable device that the dogs can operate to effectively alert their handlers and provide more information. For instance, a bomb-sniffing dog could activate the FIDO sensor to inform the human team when it locates an explosive, while a search and rescue dog could send a message to its team that the object of the search has been located. Other uses for the technology include guide dogs being able to better communicate with their masters and provide them with improved navigation skills.

The technology would come in the form of either a collar or vest for the dog, which is linked up to an earpiece, wristwatch, or Google Glass-like headwear worn by their handler or owner. To activate the alert, the dog would tug or bite the sensor or simply put their mouth near to it, so that the corresponding sensor worn by the human produces an alert.

Recent tests on the technology have included kitting out dogs with a vest incorporating a microprocessor. Several different sensors were tried out, and in each case, the animals learnt quickly how to use them in a way that created an audio alert to the human.

A full report on the findings will be unveiled at the International Semantic Web Conference in November. Should the technology prove successful, ultimately it could be something that all dog owners want to get their hands on. Using the sensors, pets can let their masters know when they need to go out and use the toilet, or when they want to eat.

Ironically, in 2010 Google managed to trick thousands into thinking it had extended its machine translation tool to include translations of what animals are ‘saying’. Available as a downloadable app, the tool lets people use their mobile phones to record the sounds of an animal, select the source language by species and the human target language, run the audio through Google Translate and offer up the transcribed results. Or, that’s what it would have done if it actually existed – although, in fact, it was an elaborate April Fool.

Google went as far as to warn those interested in the animal translation tool that it could not be held responsible for what the creature had said. It also informed users that the higher up the food chain an animal was, the better it would be at communicating.

However, using technology as a means of enabling animals to talk to us does not seem such a stretch today. If FIDO is successful, could it be extended to include other animals, such as cats or horses?

It’s not only animals getting new gadgets, but humans too. Google Glass is set to be available commercially from 2014, while the Pebble is a new watch that tells the time, but also incorporates GPS, a music player, a golf rangefinder, running stats and email and social media alerts, among other functions.

At this rate, 2015 could be looking a lot more like the 2015 of Back to the Future than we ever imagined.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.