As it is, dogs have incredible connections to humans. Now, wouldn't it be great if people understood better what their canine companions wanted? A group of researchers from North Carolina State University have devised a suite of technologies to address this concern.

Designed to be incorporated into a number of applications, the suite features a platform that facilitates computer-mediated communications between dogs and humans. The platform interprets behavioral signals from dogs and also sends canines clear and direct cues from humans. Researchers have already created a fully functioning prototype, a harness that houses the platform and comfortably fits on the dog's back.

Dr. David Roberts, co-lead author for the study and computer science assistant professor at NC State, explains that dogs primarily communicate using body language.

One of the challenges was to develop platform sensors that would allow the researchers to observe postures in dogs remotely, allowing them to determine when a dog is sitting, running or standing. The platform is also designed to wirelessly transmit data so information may be gathered even when a dog is not in the immediate area.

At the same time, vibrating motors, known as haptics, and speakers were fitted into the harness, giving researchers a means of communication with the dogs.

The platform incorporates two main technologies to form its core, but functions can be customized and devices added depending on a particular application. For instance, when the platform is to be used in search-and-rescue missions, environmental sensors may be added for detecting hazards, as well as microphones and cameras to allow rescue teams to see and hear what dogs see and hear.

Aside from search-and-rescue missions, the platform may also be used for working dogs or guide dogs for the blind and for training dogs.

"This platform is an amazing tool, and we're excited about using it to improve the bond between dogs and their humans," shares Dr. Barbara Sherman, co-author of the study and animal behavior clinical professor at NC State's College of Veterinary Medicine.

The study "Towards Cyber-Enhanced Working Dogs for Search and Rescue" was published in the journal IEEE Xplore. It received funding support from the Cyber Physical System Program under the National Science Foundation.

Aside from Sherman, co-authors of the study include Robert Loftin and John Majikes, Ph.D. students, and Dr. Pu Yang, a former Ph.D. student. Roberts and Dr. Alper Bozkurt, an electrical and computer engineering assistant professor, were co-lead authors.

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