All compassionate humans with genuine concern for pets aren’t as empathetic as they ought to be. Unwittingly so. For there is an indiscernible boundary that delineates raw sympathy from sensibly understanding an animal’s needs. This explains why many end up serving their favourite food or decking pets up in human accessories, when the latter clearly is disinterested, bemused, or worse, irritated.
When this is the case with basic necessities like food, imagine the impact of ‘human technology’ in pets’ lives. Are we really trying to simplify their lives through tech or further complicate it? This is where ‘The Dog Internet’ project tries to bridge the human-pet mindset divide.
A group of researchers in Interactive Media, at the University’s Department of Theatre, Film and Television (TFTV), and their counterparts at the University College, Cork and Northumbria University, feel that commercial pet technology is hardly conceived based on the needs and convenience of pets.
“Our primary concern is for the dogs as end users, who are often subjected to technology rather than engaging with it in their own terms. Imagine what would happen if a dog could create digital technology for a human: would we benefit or even understand it?” Dr Ben Kirman, one of the researchers, raises a pertinent question.
“To investigate this further we designed prototypes of dog technologies that do not allow human access … what if the technology permitted only a dog user and the system had to decide if you were a dog or a human?”
The researchers decided to walk the talk and developed a prototype wooden dog kennel with a model golden retriever dog, which would spray mammal secretions. It gets more interesting from here. The secretions can be sensed only by a ‘real user’ – a dog in flesh and blood with a superior sense of smell than humans – and naturally keep humans away. A real dog is thus authenticated as a digital user.
The whole exercise, says Dr Kirman, serves to show the stark contrast between technologies that are designed to benefit the animal and the commercial ones that are largely based on what humans perceive as their pet’s needs.
This is only the beginning. Be rest assured that your dog’s perfect GPS tracking device or a health indicator is just round the corner.