Dogs can video call their owners with a new invention which the designers claim could help address anxiety in pets that are left alone at home.
The system, called DogPhone, works when a pet picks up and shakes a soft ball fitted with an accelerometer, a type of sensor.
When movement is sensed, a signal is sent to a laptop which launches a video call.
The owner can even make a call to the pet, who would have to move the ball to answer.
University of Glasgow’s Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, her 10-year-old labrador, Zack, and colleagues from Aalto University in Finland, have been working on the device.
Zack was left alone for around eight hours on testing days – and the team believes the device could help pets feel less anxious when their owners are not with them.
Dr Hirskyj-Douglas, who is a specialist in animal-computer interaction at the university’s School of Computing Science, said: “There are hundreds of internet-connected ‘smart toys’ on the market that dog owners can buy for their pets.
“However, the vast majority of them are built with the needs of dog owners in mind, allowing them to observe or interact with their pets while away from home.
“Very few of them seem to consider what dogs themselves might want, or how technology might benefit them as living beings with thoughts and feelings of their own.”
The results of Zack’s interactions with a prototype DogPhone, which is still undergoing further experiments, are the focus of a new research paper at the 2021 ACM Interactive Surfaces and Spaces Conference in Lodz, Poland.
In a trial, Zack called Dr Hirskyj-Douglas by picking up and shaking a ball fitted with an accelerometer, which prompted a video call on a laptop in her living room.
She said: “What I wanted to do with DogPhone was find a way to turn Zack from a ‘usee’ of technology, where he has no choice or control over how he interacts with devices, into a ‘user’, where he could make active decisions about when, where, and how he placed a call.”
After several demonstrations of how the ball could be used to start a video call, Zack was given the toy to play with for 16 days spread over a period of three months.
While Zack made some “accidental” calls when he slept on the ball, researchers said several of the calls involved the dog showing his owner his toys and approaching the screen, suggesting he wanted to interact with her.
Dr Hirskyj-Douglas responded using her phone to show Zack her environment, including her office, a restaurant and a street busker, during which the dog pricked up his ears and approached the screen.