FIDO: Wearable Technology is Going to the Dogs

Wearable Technology is the latest craze in computing devices, from Google Glass to smart shoes to the rumored iWatch. At this point, we’re practically running out of body parts to strap computers to, but that doesn’t mean that scientists and innovators have given up trying. Some are really starting to think outside of the box…and by “the box,” I mean “the human body.” The next wave of wearable tech may be intended not for man, but for man’s best friend.

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology and at the UK’s Open University are developing computers and mobile devices that can be used by dogs. “We are trying to develop something analogous to human computer interaction for animals,” said Dr. Clara Mancini, head of the “smart kennel” project at Open University, “It is about giving them more control and getting them to do things better.”

One of the most important hurdles that researchers face is the interface—keyboards and mice were designed for hands, not paws. If you’ve ever pretended to make your dog type, then you know that even AutoCorrect couldn’t salvage their clunky attempts. So rather than training dogs to use human interfaces, the research teams are working on canine-friendly interfaces: touch screens, gesture detection, big bright buttons, and tuggable toggles. These help to break down the barriers between dogs and computers, so they can be trained to perform tasks they couldn’t normally do.

The Georgia Tech team is led by visiting associate professor Melody Jackson, research scientist Clint Zeagler, and Professor Thad Starner, who was technical lead on the Google Glass project. Together, they’ve made significant advances on a system that enables service dogs to communicate more clearly and do more for their owners. The device, appropriately named FIDO (Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations), has proven easy to learn for dogs in the early testing stages. The applications are manifold—from bomb-sniffing to search and rescue, all canine occupations stand to benefit from improved communication.

FIDO has the potential to work as a sort of limited messaging device, where dogs could trigger several different key words or phrases with the push (or chew) of a button. It could allow them to signal an emergency, or just to alert owners that they are hungry.

Of course, there will be certain challenges that arise from computer-aided canines. We’ll have to do our best to keep them from getting addicted to Facebook, Googling other dogs’ butts, and forgetting to charge their devices. But look on the bright side: maybe we can teach them to mark their territory on Google Maps from now on.

With FIDO in development, it’s only a matter of time before someone develops wearable technology for cats. Odds are it will only communicate their contempt for us, but I can think of a few features that they would enjoy: a scratch-activated laser pointer, the ability to call up YouTube videos of their favorite prey, a camera for recording the demise of their victims…you get the idea.

What would your pet do with wearable technology? Improve your life or stage a revolution? Tell us in the comments!

photo credit: wrumsby via photopin cc

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Brent Urmey is an avid reader and writer on a variety of subjects, including social media, SEO, the Wireless industry, and life in Lancaster County, PA. He is a graduate of Drexel University and a survivor of the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. You can connect with Brent on Google +.