A dog called Tai is learning to respond to commands in a unique way, via vibrations in his vest.
Tai was raised to be a guide dog for a blind person but failed the test because he was easily distracted and preferred sniffing things.
Now reinvented as a remote-controlled canine, he responds better to vibrating commands than vocal ones.
The system he is testing could be useful in situations where a dog is not in the line of sight of its owner.
That includes military dogs and those employed on search-and-rescue missions. The vest could also be a new way for disabled people to communicate with an assistance dog.
The system was developed at Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Israel and relies on a modified canine vest which contains four small vibrating motors positioned over the dog’s back and sides.
The dog is trained to respond to different vibrations sent via a wireless remote control.
So far, Tai, a six-year-old Labrador retriever/German shepherd crossbreed, has learned to respond to several commands, including “spin”, “down”, “to me” and “backpedal”.
“Our research results showed that dogs responded to these vibro-tactile cues as well or even better than vocal commands,” says Prof Amir Shapiro, director of the robotics laboratory within BGU’s department of mechanical engineering.
“Our current proof-of-concept study shows promising results that open the way toward the use of haptics for human-canine communication.”
Haptics describes technology that uses touch to control and interact with computers.
The paper describing the work was presented at the World Haptics Conference in Japan, earlier this month.
The next stage is to use different breeds and ages of dogs, as well as those at different stages of training. And the vests will also start getting more sophisticated.