Researchers have developed a device that allows people who are blind to monitor their guide dogs in order to keep tabs on the health and wellbeing of their canine companions.
“Dogs primarily communicate through their movements and posture, which makes it difficult or impossible for people who are blind to fully understand their dogs’ needs on a moment-to-moment basis,” said study co-author David Roberts, assistant professor of computer science at North Carolina State University in the US.
“This challenge is particularly pronounced in guide dogs, who are bred and trained to be outwardly calm and avoid drawing attention to themselves in public,” Roberts noted.
To address this need, the researchers have developed a suite of technologies that monitor a dog’s breathing and heart rate and share the information with the dog’s handler.
The researchers developed a specialised handle that attaches to a guide dog’s harness. The handle is equipped with two vibrating motors.
One motor is embedded in the handle by the handler’s thumb, and vibrates – or beats – in time with the dog’s heart rate. When the dog’s heart rate increases, so does the rate at which the motor beats.
The second motor is embedded in the handle near the handler’s little finger, and vibrates in sync with the dog’s breathing. The vibration increases and decreases in intensity, to simulate the dog breathing in and out.
“We wanted to use electronic signals that intuitively make sense for the dog handlers,” Roberts said.
The prototype handle has been tested using simulated heart rate and respiratory data, and was found to be effective at accurately conveying information to users.