A Chatty Menagerie
Dolphins are prime targets for communication research, due to their complex social structures and highly developed brains, but they're not the only animals that scientists are struggling to communicate with through sounds, physical gestures or some combination of those.
Koko, a famous gorilla living in captivity in California, reportedly has a vocabulary of about 2,000 words. She and her trainers use a form of sign language to communicate and understand those words. And a border collie named Chaser has been credited with understanding more than 1,000 spoken words.
But in a significant paradigm shift, more researchers are now eschewing teaching human words to animals, instead trying to decode the chirps, whistles, roars and other sounds that animals use to communicate with one another.
Constantine Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University has spent years deciphering the language used by the Gunnison's prairie dog, a species native to the U.S. Southwest. Slobodchikoff discovered that these prairie dogs have a surprisingly complex language that can, for example, describe the size, shape and color of clothes worn by a human intruder.
No Dog Left Behind
The dog researchers at NSID hope that future refinements of their No More Woof device could communicate complex thoughts with more specific descriptions, such as, "Who is that woman? She looks nice!"
While that level of sophistication will take some time and a lot of research, the NSID crew is encouraged by the level of interest their crowdfunding effort has attracted: They've exceeded their original funding request of $10,000 by several thousand dollars, and are continuing to attract donations.
If successful, NSID designers hope to ship their first No More Woof prototypes to eager dog owners worldwide by April of this year. But the designers' sights are set much higher: "We believe that within a few years the technologies we are working with will revolutionize our relation to pets and animals," according to the group's IndieGoGo website.
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