We just love new technology – especially when it benefits our pups. Self-driving cars – who would have ever thought? A phone that makes calls by voice command? We don’t even think twice about how improvements like these have affected our lives. But, we recently came across something that astounded us. A Labrador mix named Tai turns, backs up, lays down and comes without any visual or audio cues. All thanks to a vest.
Wait – what?
Earlier this week, scientists from the Israeli Ben-Gurion University of the Negev presented their newly designed vest at the IEEE World Haptics Conference in Tokyo.
The concept is simple: the researchers gave Tai commands by gentle vibration motors in a vest. They reported issuing a command this way was as effective as using vocals.
The study’s lead author, Yoav Golan, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering, has been with Tai for years. Tai failed an exam to be a seeing-eye guide because he was a bit too hyperactive. So, Yoav decided to try a different method of training.
The team put a special casing for the vibration motor inside the vest. Tai wore it and received gentle vibrations to the bony areas near his hips and shoulders. No fur shaving was required.
After training, Tai could discern commands with vibrations from four different motors near the top of each of his legs. Also, Tai could distinguish between steady vibrations and pulses. This means dogs may be able to learn commands of differing complexity.
Vests in Action
In their paper, the researchers wrote, “Communication with working dogs is still predominantly visual and audial.”
This revolutionary new vest allows signals without either of those cues.
Search-and-rescue or tracker dogs who work at a distance could receive commands without seeing or hearing their handlers. Police and military canines could use the vest when they work in loud areas, like conflict zones. If they weren’t trained together, some handlers and their pups might not even speak the same language. This vest eliminates the need to use words for communication.
And, for those of us with dogs at home, the vest could be helpful to call our pups when they are far away.
No Dogs Were Harmed
You might be worried about how Tai was treated during this study. ‘Vibrations’ evoke all sorts of images. However, Tai received the utmost care.
It took months to get approval from Ben-Gurion University’s animal research ethics committee and Israel’s ministry of health. Then, veterinary staff regularly checked on the experiments and the conditions for the dog.
Yoav first tested the motors on himself. He said the vibrations felt like the buzz of a cell phone. For Tai, the entire test was non-invasive. Tai showed no discomfort. He had time to rest, received positive reinforcement, and, of course, got to eat his favorite edible treats.
The paper described Tai as a “truly good boy.” We agree!
What a cool way for humans to communicate with dogs. Watch the vest in action below.
Featured image c/o Ben-Gurion University of the Negev/Facebook
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