Woof! Rover Alert Calls for Help When Owner Can't

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Pets have been known to hit 911 on the phone in a medical emergency, but a dog-activated alert prototype in development would make that notification easier, even in cases where the owner is unconscious on the floor.

Innovations Inspired by Animals

Animal-computer interaction researchers from Open University in the United Kingdom came up with the idea for a dog-activated device from real-world situations of dogs using human technology, either on their own or when asked by an owner. But a diabetic suffering from low blood sugar could quickly be unconscious and unable to request the dog’s help.

“Why not help out the dog who is trying to help its owner?” Open University PhD candidate Charlotte Robinson told me. “What if we could provide an intuitive, easy interface for dogs to use in an emergency?”

Robinson, working with senior lecturer Janet van der Linden, researcher Clara Mancini and the nonprofit organization Medical Detection Dogs, developed several prototypes for a dog-activated alert. In the current version, a trained diabetes alert dog goes over to a hanging pull switch and takes a “tuggy” component, also known as a bringsel, in its mouth.

Pulling the tuggy activates a switch that starts a software sequence, which texts or calls GPS coordinates to a preconfigured contact list of friends, family or emergency services, Robinson explained. The dog brings the tuggy to the human and lays down, waiting for help (video demo). The interface is being presented at the 2014 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

Device Promises Dog Translations

Next, the group plans to continue developing, testing and refine the interface so it can be used in a home setting. They also want to explore how to combine their research with existing assistive technologies. “Overall, we’re going to continue learning how to best have ‘conversations’ with dogs during the design process,” Robinson said.

Credit: Open University Animal-Computer Interaction Lab

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