High-Tech Harness Lets You Communicate With Your Dog

Benefitting humankind as well as canine-kind
David Roberts with one of his research associates. North Carolina State University

Man has long dreamt of being able to talk with his best friend, but “dog-translator” devices are an old and hokey sort of concept. Yet now, a new communication invention by scientists at North Carolina State University seems to be much more realistic, allowing humans to talk to their dogs in a new, unique way. The device has many practical applications for a wide range of situations – from search and rescue missions to everyday training.

The researchers have created a harness that enables humans and dogs to engage in two-way communication via computer. It’s called the Cyber Enhanced Working Dog (CEWP), which refers to both the canine and the high-tech harness operating together as one unit.

The harness is like one you can buy at any pet store, except it has been augmented with a smorgasbord of electronics: cameras, GPS, gas sensors, microphones, vibration motors, and even an automated doggie-treat dispenser. All this information is aggregated and fed to an owner by a computer aptly named BeagleBone Black.

“We’re at the dawn of a new era here, where technology is going to connect us to our pets in ways we haven’t seen before.”

Through this platform, humans can monitor the animal’s movement, emotional state, and outside environment from a distance, as well as give voice and tactile commands. Eight vibration motors situated along the dog’s body can pulse in varying levels of duration and intensity, with the potential to give hundreds of unique commands, though researchers haven’t tested the limits of the communication system yet. Handlers can train their pets to associate haptic feedback with specific actions, in the same way dogs can be trained to respond to voice and hand commands.

“We’re at the dawn of a new era here, where technology is going to connect us to our pets in ways we haven’t seen before,” says David Roberts, a professor at North Carolina State University and co-lead author of a paper written about the invention. His team is dreaming of a future where Cyber Enhanced Working Dogs can work alongside drones and robots and the paper focuses on ways connected canine and human intelligence can revolutionize search and rescue missions, but Roberts says implications go far beyond emergency situations.

“My belief is that these types of technologies we’ve been working on will be commercially available in the not too distance future,” he says. This sort of communication device could be used to treat dogs with separation anxiety, to calm anxious puppies at shelters, or to help guide dogs enhance the everyday lives of their owners, according to Roberts.

The most recent prototype weighs about four pounds and has a battery that can last over eight hours, says Roberts. The next step for his team is to miniaturize the harness; they want to reduce the weight by 10 times and make a variety of sizes suitable for smaller dogs.

The invention works best with extensive training, says Roberts. Besides getting your dog used to wearing a vest, it needs to learn to correspond a whole host of new sensations with various commands. This futuristic harness won’t give you the ability to discuss a dissertation with your pet, but it could bring you and your well-trained pup closer together with more open lines of communication.