If you’ve been waiting for the day to have a conversation with your dog, that day may have just got a little closer.
A research team at the Georgia Institute of Technology has developed a new vest that allows dogs to respond to their owners, CNN reports.
The vest comes equipped with sensors that the dog can use to send text notifications or audible messages to a smartphone. These messages are crucial for bomb detection and search and rescue teams, as well as for owners of therapy dogs, said Melody Jackson, an associate professor at the school who created the vest.
“A bomb-sniffing dog has pretty much one alert that says, ‘Hey, I found an explosive,’” Jackson told CNN.
But the dog may know more than that, like what type of explosive it is.
“They know if it’s something stable, like C4, or something unstable and dangerous, like TATP, that needs to be handled carefully,” she said.
The problem, Jackson added, is “they have no way to tell their handler.”
Jackson reportedly merged two of her passions to create the new technology: computer science, which she has a Ph.D. in, and almost 20 years of training assistance dogs. The high-tech vests are part of the Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations or FIDO. The research team also includes Professor Thad Starner and research scientist Clint Zeagler.
One dog who has been a big part in the vest’s development is Sky, Jackson’s 8-year-old Border Collie.
“He actually has helped us design a lot of these sensors, by telling us what works and what doesn’t work,” she told the news organization, adding dogs can learn in as little as 27 seconds. “So, he’s sort of our first line of testing before we go out to the rest of the world. He’s a very critical part of our design team.”
All that Sky and other dogs need do is trigger side sensors on the vest with a bite or a nudge of their nose. They’re reportedly trained with toys and can identify between a ball or a Frisbee, which they in turn, relay to their handler. Jackson said this is what’s called a “discrimination task” and can be translated to more important tasks, such as bomb detection, where the dog would tell his handler what explosive they have scented.
Jackson and her team also have developed a medical alert vest that allows a dog to find a missing or trapped person, activate a sensor and let that person know that help is en route, CNN reports. This would be key to helping and saving lives during an earthquake or other disaster.
In addition, the vest could be helpful for a hearing-impaired person or individual who can’t speak. The dog could tell others to get help with the phrase, “Excuse me, my handler needs your attention.”
No report if you’re dog will be exclaiming, “Squirrel!” anytime soon, but this new device brings us one stop closer to knowing what those dog barks really mean and teaching them to help people when needed.