Ever gotten a text from your dog?

Top computer scientists are working to make that possible.

Several years ago, a group of researchers from Georgia Tech began work on the FIDO (Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations) project. The FIDO project takes the concept of a service dog to the next level, teaching a dog to communicate in medical situations.

An article on the FIDO project recently appeared on wired.com, a site that covers emerging technology and its impact on society. Wired.com in October shared an excerpt from the book "Doctor Dogs" written by Maria Goodavage, who interviewed the FIDO project director.

According to the excerpt, there are multiple ways in which working dogs are being trained to communicate medical needs with or on behalf of their owners. One such way uses a talking vest prototype worn by the dog. The vest is equipped with sensors on either side of it. Depending on which sensor a dog activates, a different message could be heard. In a medical emergency such as a seizure, the trained dog can recognize his owner’s need, then seek help by activating a specific sensor so that a voice sounds with a message, such as “My owner needs help. Please come with me.”

The excerpt goes on to explain that future vests will be equipped with messages that vary based on the handler’s needs. From animals trained to sense the onset of seizures to diabetic sugar level issues, the dog’s vest will be programmed with case-specific comments. Goodavage reports that voice messages will also be personalized with male or female voices — accents and all — based on the dog’s gender and the dialect in that region.

The article reports that the FIDO team is also working on other means of teaching dogs to communicate, including touchscreen technology. Demonstrations reveal dogs using their noses to touch dial a message when queued. Georgia Tech researchers have trained dogs to dial 911 on an oversized screen when the handler prompts the dog with a key word or key gesture. Researchers envision that nose-touches may eventually prove particularly helpful to deaf handlers. The idea would be that a dog’s nose-push on a special icon would initiate a text message to an owner. This would prove particularly helpful to alert deaf handlers if an alarm is sounding or a doorbell is ringing.

These communication tools are not yet on the market as researchers still have many improvements they wish to incorporate. For example, Goodavage reports that in current vest prototypes, much of the technology is exposed, from the wires and cables to the various sensors. These will eventually be streamlined and attractively covered.

Much progress has been made, however. When Goodavage interviewed FIDO researchers, they reported having made it past several hurdles already, including developing sensors that are water resistant (dogs have wet noses, tend to slobber and groom themselves) and crunch-resistant (dogs have strong jaws). Researchers have also learned that when a dog’s vest "talks," the dog needs to play the message twice, as people are usually caught off guard the first time they hear a human voice coming from the dog’s presence.

Dogs are doing amazing work; when paired with technology, their skills are even more incredible. To see a FIDO dog in action, visit https://www.cbsnews.com/video/dog-nose-to-use-touch-screen. To learn more about dogs helping in other medical capacities, read "Doctor Dogs" by Maria Goodavage, a former USA Today journalist and one of the foremost author experts on working dogs. 

Jenni Hanna is the Enhanced Telecommunications Corp. public relations coordinator in the Greensburg office.

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