Dogs can video-call their owners with a new invention that designers claim could help alleviate anxiety in pets left alone at home.
The system, called the DogPhone, works when a pet picks up and shakes a soft ball equipped with an accelerometer, a type of sensor.
When motion is detected, a signal is sent to a laptop which initiates a video call.
The owner can even make a call to the pet, who will have to move the ball to answer.
University of Glasgows Dr. Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, her 10-year-old labrador, Zack, and colleagues from Aalto University in Finland, have been working on the device.
Zack was left alone for about eight hours on test days – and the team believes the device could help pets feel less anxious when their owners are not with them.
Dr. Hirskyj-Douglas, who specializes in animal-computer interaction at the University’s School of Computing Science, said: “There are hundreds of Internet-connected ‘smart toys’ on the market that dog owners can buy for their pets.
“But the vast majority of them are built with the needs of dog owners in mind, allowing them to observe or interact with their pets while away from home.
“Very few of them seem to consider what dogs themselves could wish for, or how technology can benefit them as living beings with their own thoughts and feelings.”
The results of Zack’s interactions with a prototype DogPhone, which is still undergoing further experiments, are the focus of a new research paper at the 2021 ACM Interactive Surfaces and Spaces Conference in Lodz, Poland.
In a lawsuit, Zack called Dr. Hirskyj-Douglas by taking and shaking a ball equipped with an accelerometer, which led to a video call on a laptop in her living room.
She said: “What I wanted with DogPhone was to find a way to transform Zack from a ‘user’ of technology where he has no choice or control over how he interacts with devices, to a ‘user’ where he could make active decisions about when, where and how he called. “
After several demonstrations of how the ball could be used to start a video call, Zack was given the toy to play with for 16 days spread over a period of three months.
While Zack made some “random” calls while sleeping on the ball, researchers said several of the calls involved the dog showing his owner his toy and approaching the screen, suggesting he would interact with her.
Dr. Hirskyj-Douglas responded by using her phone to show Zack her surroundings, including her office, a restaurant, and a street bush, where the dog pricked up its ears and approached the screen.