It’s not quite cyber dogs, but the US Army Research Laboratory has demonstrated how custom-fitted augmented reality goggles can help dogs find people during rescue operations or sniff out hazardous materials. They hope the combination of advanced technology and the powerful canine nose will keep dogs, keepers, and the rest of us safer.
One day robots, such as Boston Dynamics' infamous Spot the Dog may displace living animals from their many search and rescue and bomb-sniffing roles, but for the moment the canine nose far outperforms any artificial device. Combine this with four-legged maneuverability and dogs are hard to beat when it comes to finding someone trapped under rubble. Nevertheless, even the best boys and girls can’t always tell their handlers what they have seen, nor follow the most subtle instructions.
Enter Command Sight, a company seeking to improve communication between working animals and their human handlers. The Army Research Office (ARO) has announced the results of trials of their dogs wearing Command Sight’s goggles, or doggles as they really should be known.
The goggles allow handlers to see through the dogs' eyes, with cameras transmitting what a searching pooch can see back to the handler. In the other direction, handlers can provide instructions to the dog by creating a visual cue, directing the intrepid canine explorer where the handler wants it to go. Dogs appear to find instructions delivered in this way less confusing than audible commands, without the need to look back for hand signals. Laser pointers are already used for a similar purpose, but rely on the dog remaining in the handler’s line of sight.
“Augmented reality (AR) works differently for dogs than for humans,” Command Sight’s founder Dr Stephen Lee said in a statement. “AR will be used to provide dogs with commands and cues; it’s not for the dog to interact with it like a human does. This new technology offers us a critical tool to better communicate with military working dogs.”
“Now, cameras are generally placed on a dog’s back, but by putting the camera in the goggles, the handler can see exactly what the dogs see,” Lee added. Having cameras in the dog’s goggles rather than on their back also makes for a more stable image.
The prototype has been tested on Mater, Lee’s Rottweiler. While Mater looks exceptionally dashing in his doggles, smaller dogs may expand the capacity to send back images from places humans cannot reach.
The goggles are modified versions of the Rex Specs already used to give service dogs eye protection under certain conditions, enhancing confidence in their safety and comfort.