With an olfactory potency hundreds of times more sensitive than ours, a dog's nose is an invaluable tool in the service of humans. But understanding exactly what your dog's nose is picking up has traditionally been limited to specific yes/no answers, such as airport drug dogs ("do you smell weed on this suitcase, yes or no?"). A new device from the Georgia Institute of Technology, though, aims to drastically expand your dog's vocabulary.
Developed by a trio of researchers at GIT—associate professor Melody Jackson, Google Glass technical lead Thad Starner, and research scientist Clint Zeagler—the FIDO system (Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations) is an array of sensors mounted on a dog's service vest that allow the animal to quickly, accurately, and remotely communicate with its handler—be it a disabled person or Search and Rescue personnel.
Each sensor on the vest is activated differently, either being gnawed on, tugged at, or nosed. Once activated the individual sensors will transmit a different message to the handler's earpiece or HUD. By training the dog to activate a different sensor based on different stimuli, one could use this system essentially as a rudimentary Babelfish.
While it's still in the early prototyping stages, this device could prove immensely valuable in a number of service fields. Bomb-sniffing dogs would be able to relay exactly what kind of IED they've discovered before the EOD technician arrived on scene, Search and Rescue dogs would be able to alert their handlers to survivors without leaving the injured person's side, and cancer-detecting hounds could be trained to differentiate between specific types of bowel cancer and inform doctors accordingly.
The technology is, unfortunately, still years away from being available at your neighborhood Petsmart. As for a feline version, well, here's all you need to know about what they're thinking: