Designing an internet for dogs

Every day, millions of dogs are left alone in houses full of internet-connected devices: could getting dogs talking to each other online improve their wellbeing?
Design idea for internet dog communications
An example of one of the idea sketches for how to connect dogs, here CompanionDogs a device allowing dogs to ring and play with each other, online Credit: Dr Hirskyj-Douglas

‘On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog’ is a meme from the early days of the web. The internet was developed to share information and bring communities separated by geography together, and researchers interested in both animal welfare and machine interfaces are beginning to ask if this can be applied to other animals.

‘A 2018 study of British dogs found that, of the 8.9 million dogs in the UK, 2.1 million were left alone for considerable periods of time. Dogs which are unable to socialise may be more prone to developing negative and problematic behaviours, and the lack of dog-to-dog contact is a major issue in affecting behavioural problems in solitary pet dogs,’ says Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, the computer scientist from Aalto University leading the study.

To combat the stresses lonely dogs feel, Dr Hirskyj-Douglas and her colleague, Interaction Design Professor Andrés Lucero from Aalto School of Arts, Design and Architecture, have started exploring dog-computer interfaces to try and focus in on where our gaps in understanding exist, so researchers can solve these problems to develop a doggy internet.

Non-human interaction with computers has been limited to only animal-to-computer or animal-to-human interactions, such as tech to enrich animal enclosures in zoos or things like TV channels for dogs. Dr Hirskyj-Douglas has already researched computer screens controllable by dogs, and is currently extending this research further into dog-to-dog communication.

The Design Ideas

The ideas that make dog-to-dog internet communication possible are intrinsically fun, but the research itself is serious. A team of designers and researchers brainstormed potential devices, and then compared their proposals to see where common challenges lie. The six proposed designs fell into two broad categories, internet connected toys and screen-based devices, where dogs could interact with each other in real time.

Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas & her dog
Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas & her dog

The conclusion from the design session is that for the dog internet to progress, further research would be needed to turn specific dog behaviours into inputs that machines can then use to transmit to, and be understood by, other dogs. 'Understanding what is being “said” by the dog to the technology and understanding the relationship between the dog and other actors is core,’ says Dr Hirskyj-Douglas.

The results of the work are being presented at the CHI 2019 conference in Glasgow. The team hope that the ideas raised will help guide the field towards developing tech for animals to connect to one other.

Further details:

Contact details:

Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas
https://ilyenahirskyjdouglas.wordpress.com/
[email protected]

Professor Andrés Lucero
[email protected]

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