Posts tagged ‘technology’
The engineers at Dyson have come up with a new dog grooming attachment for their popular vacuum cleaner line. The tool is an adjustable brush that sucks the hair and dander it removes from the dog into a vaccum cleaner. The Dyson Groom tool will retail at GBP40 (US$64) and it reportedly fits most of the company’s vacuum cleaners. Unfortunately it will only be available in the UK retailers for the time being.
While the Dyson Groom tool is a pretty nifty idea, I think that the company has the potential to create a much handier tool for dog owners. Dyson’s airblade is a high-tech hand dryer that “… uses sheets of clean air traveling at 400 mph to literally scrape water from your hands like a windshield wiper.” According to Dyson’s specs it does the job efficiently too, using about 80% less energy than heated air hand dryers.
A portable, hand-held version of Dyson’s air blade would be a great dog dryer. I’m guessing that there’s a market for a blade of fast, non-heated air that scrapes water, loose hair and other debris off wet dogs. And while the airblade’s $1,100 price may seem a bit high, a good dog dryer retails for $300-600 and I would guess that with time, prices would drop as they do with most tech tools. Besides a portable hand-held air blade could also be used to sweep and dry horses, cars and maybe even floors (if a wide body model was available).
A wonderful short film by Patrick Boivin
“When I was a kid, there are two things I wanted badly and never got… A real dog and a Kenner AT-AT Walker.”
Via SlashFilm – a short film on how the video was made:
My previous post was about robot dog trainers. Today I’m following up with some observations on an interactive canine art exhibit that might make me re-consider my opinion about robot dog trainers.
SNIFF is an interactive projection created by artist Karolina Sobecka and software developer Jim George. This high-tech virtual dog interacts with passers-by in real time. From the artists’ website:
As you walk down the street you are approached by a dog. He is on his guard trying to discern your intentions. He will follow you and interpret your gestures as friendly or aggressive. He will try to engage you in a relationship and get you to pay attention to him.
Sniff is an interactive projection in a storefront window. As the viewer walks by the projection, her movements and gestures are tracked by a computer vision system. A CG dog dynamically responds to these gestures and changes his behavior based on the state of engagement with the viewer.
Video tracking data collected from infrared sensors allows SNIFF to interact with observers in real time. The positions of moving objects on the sidewalk outside the installation are tracked and a simple gesture recognition algorithm interprets them. Fast, big movements are interpreted as threatening and slow, approaching actions are interpreted as friendly. SNIFF’s software stores a history of its interactions with viewers to form “relationships” with them over time.
SNIFF’s behavior strikes me as unnaturally awkward and stereotypic. Like a severely under-stimulated zoo animal. Note the eerie similarity between SNIFF’s movements and those of the caged Thylacine in the video below:
What makes SNIFF tick? According to the developers:
SNIFF is composed of two main components, a video tracking system and a game engine for real time graphics. The video tracking system is built in openFrameworks; for the game engine we chose is Unity3d.
People on the sidewalk are monitored by an IR camera in openFrameworks. In oF each individual person is isolated and assigned a unique id for the duration of their interaction. Each persons’ position and gesture information is continually sent to Unity3d via OSC networking protocol. In Unity, an artificial intelligence system representing the dog forms relationships with the individuals. He chooses which person to pay attention to, is able to move towards them or back away, responds to their gestures and initiates gestures of his own. Based on the interaction he gets excited or bored, friendly or aggressive, which is reflected in his behavior.
SNIFF’s algorithm includes a mood module that is constructed based on how each observer’s friendliness and enthusiasm changes over time. Like many real dogs, SNIFF reacts in a wild and unpredictable way when he gets over-stimulated. And when he gets bored with you he lays down or wanders off to investigate something else. SNIFF’s behavioral repertoire is currently very basic, but his developers plan to use data on how he reacts to his human audience to program him to engage in more complex interactions in the future.
So – if we can create a simulation that behaves like a dog – is the next step a virtual dog trainer? Perhaps, but I think that success with both projects still lies some time in the future. SNIFF only acts enough like a dog to provide us with a transient bit of entertainment. A simulation that reacts in a stilted and highly repetitive way to a few broad types of physical motions will need a major upgrade to evolve into a system that can consistently read canine body language, interpret it correctly, determine how the animal’s behavior should best be modified to achieve a specific goal and then respond to the dog in a way that correctly elicits the desired response. And, of course, the incorporeal nature of a simulation could also present problems in applying punishments and rewards.
Still – SNIFF’s ability to read and react to basic gestural behavior in real time could lead to some interesting developments in a lot of areas.
I think that even if we can build a canine training simulator with super-human observational skills and perfect timing – dogs will still prefer to work with flawed flesh and blood dog trainers because the dog is, and always will be, our first friend.
When the Man waked up he said,
“What is Wild Dog doing here?”
And the Woman said,
“His name is not Wild Dog any more,
but the First Friend,
because he will be our friend
for always and always and always.”
– Rudyard Kipling
Two interesting articles caught my eye today. First in ”The Serious Need for Play” Scientific American points out that children and animals that aren’t given opportunities for loose, unstructured free play when they are young grow up to be anxious, socially maladjusted adults. Then in “The End of Solitude,” The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses how technology is taking away our ability to be alone (h/t to Matt Mullinex of Querencia for this one).
Two seemingly unrelated articles – but I believe that they’re both related to the same issue – the diminishing importance of nature in our lives.
As I’ve written here before, I am concerned that we are creating a world where young people prefer to learn about nature though Podcasts, interactive computer games, television and surfing the web rather than by actually experiencing it.
Most psychologists agree that play affords benefits that last through adulthood, but they do not always agree on the extent to which a lack of play harms kids-particularly because, in the past, few children grew up without ample frolicking time. But today free play may be losing its standing as a staple of youth. According to a paper published in 2005 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, children’s free-play time dropped by a quarter between 1981 and 1997. Concerned about getting their kids into the right colleges, parents are sacrificing playtime for more structured activities.
But kids playsoccer, Scrabble and the sousaphone-so why are experts concerned that these games and more structured activities are eating into free play? Certainly games with rules are fun and sources of learning experiences-they may foster better social skills and group cohesion, for instance, says Anthony D. Pellegrini, an educational psychologist at the University of Minnesota. But, Pellegrini explains, “games have a priori rules-set up in advance and followed. Play, on the other hand, does not have a priori rules, so it affords more creative responses.”
Free play is natural play. It’s playing with other kids when there aren’t any adults around to supervise or intervene. It’s not a soccer game organized by rules, coaches and referees. And it’s not Guitar Hero where rules of rhythm, pitch and imitation control the action even when you’re playing alone.
Free play is crucial in developing healthy social skills in all social animals. You can’t learn how to deal with bullies – or learn not to be a bully when there’s always a grownup there to butt in. And the idea of taking turns becomes a lot clearer when your skill at it directly relates to how often you get to participate in games.
When I was a kid, most of our free play time took place in nature. An overgrown vacant lot. The wooded area behind our school. A stretch of marshy land along the lake. A cow pasture. Those were ourplaces. Places we were free from adult interruptions and interference. Places where we did the stupid things that taught us a lot of the most important lessons of our lives. No helmets, kneepads, referees or rulebooks required.
Was it safe? Hell no, it wasn’t safe. I got a concussion, I broke my hand, I broke two ribs, lost my big toenail and ended up with stitches more times than I can remember. I got my feelings hurt and I did stupid, mean-spirited things that hurt other kids’ feelings. But those physical and mental hurts healed and in the process my friends and I learned things we couldn’t have learned anywhere else.
And because those free, empty places were an integral part of my life, I learned how to spend time alone. A skill that I fear will soon be numbered among lost arts like root cellaring and rhetoric. Deresiewicz writes:
Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone. Though I shouldn’t say taking away. We are doing this to ourselves; we are discarding these riches as fast as we can.
How did this happen?
…Urbanization gave way to suburbanization, and with it the universal threat of loneliness. What technologies of transportation exacerbated - we could live farther and farther apart - technologies of communication redressed - we could bring ourselves closer and closer together. Or at least, so we have imagined. The first of these technologies, the first simulacrum of proximity, was the telephone. “Reach out and touch someone.” But through the 70s and 80s, our isolation grew. Suburbs, sprawling ever farther, became exurbs. Families grew smaller or splintered apart, mothers left the home to work. The electronic hearth became the television in every room. Even in childhood, certainly in adolescence, we were each trapped inside our own cocoon. Soaring crime rates, and even more sharply escalating rates of moral panic, pulled children off the streets. The idea that you could go outside and run around the neighborhood with your friends, once unquestionable, has now become unthinkable. The child who grew up between the world wars as part of an extended family within a tight-knit urban community became the grandparent of a kid who sat alone in front of a big television, in a big house, on a big lot. We were lost in space.
Lost in an alien space of our own creation, we put our faith in regulation and technology, thinking they’d save us. But instead of saving us they’re retarding our social skills, reducing our ability to cope with stress and anxiety, eliminating our opportunities for introspection, making us less flexible and creative — and creating in us a disturbing sense of uneasiness with nature. Our access to places where we can play freely or enjoy solitude shrinks as we become subject to increasing levels of rules and regulations. Will we continue on this path and develop new values as we become more like our new electronic companions or will we find ways to rediscover the values of our ancient ones?
Neurotic self-diagnosis is usually common among med students. They study the diseases carefully and take in every symptom and, before they know it, every headache is a brain tumor and every pimple is skin cancer. The same thing happens to anyone who reads all the possible symptoms of most given diseases.
Given that access to the Internet is now widely-available, people can get medical information much faster than before. Unfortunately, these people can also get wrong medical advice and incorrect information regarding anything from symptoms to treatments or to statistics. The problem with medical misinformation is that the result may be death.
A new term was thus coined, namely “cyberchondria”, describing the effect of extensive Web browsing for information on a disease or symptom and coming to the conclusion that their cough is a sign of typhoid fever. The problem with so much information available a click away is that people prefer to ask WebMD instead of their real doctor, a laziness which can have disastrous consequences.
Also, when people start searching their symptom, they don’t stop at attributing it to one of the more common diseases, but instead associate it with the most serious and rare conditions.
Some researchers at Microsoft have been studying cyberchondria, the phenomenon of people searching the web for medical info, then concluding they’ve got some horrible disease or affliction. They conclude that “Web search engines have the potential to escalate medical concerns.”
Indeed, according to a recent article in the New York Times, it appears that self-diagnosis by search engine regularly leads to concluding the worst about what ails us. It’s a widespread phenomenon – roughly 2% of all Web queries included in the study were health-related and almost a quarter of the people involved in the study engaged in a least one medical search.
–And I’m willing to bet that we behave in much the same way when it comes to our pets.
There is a stunning amount of veterinary advice available free for the searching on the interwebs. And if there’s one thing we obsess about as much our own health… heck, in many cases more than our own health — it’s the health of our beloved pets. If the Microsoft study is an indication we are, in many cases, making mountains out of molehills.
So, if you do a web search after seeing that Rover suffers from flatulence and diarrhea you are much more likely to believe that he suffers from inflammatory bowel disease, chronic pancreatitis or exocrine pancreatic insufficiency than the much more benign (and far more common) dietary indiscretion – if articles on these much more serious and interesting diseases rank higher in your search results.
And (with apologies to our friends at Google) those nifty page ranks aren’t necessarily all they’re cracked up to be. The fact that a site on rare, debilitating diseases where people seek lots of support is more frequently linked and gets more hits than one about dogs that fart doesn’t mean that those are the diseases we are more likely to find. But — being human we tend to make a cum hoc ergo propter hoc assumption; forget about the deviled eggs Binky stole off the counter yesterday and decide that he’s going to suffer from a debilitating disease for the rest of his life.
Binky (having now pooped the offending eggs out behind the sofa) feels great and wonders what all the fuss is about as you whisk him off to the vet for a full round of testing.
[interesting and somewhat creepy sidebar: there is a real factitious disorder referred to as Veterinary Munchausen's syndrome by proxy]
From the Economist:
A new way of corralling cattle is being tested in New Mexico
BUILDING and maintaining the fences needed to control livestock is an expensive and time-consuming business. The materials alone can cost more than $20,000 a kilometre. On top of that, there is the cost of repairing damage caused by wild animals and falling trees. And then there is the need to move some fences around, a bit at a time, so that grazing land can be used efficiently. Strange as it may seem at first blush, many ranchers would therefore like to see the back of fences—if only they could.
According to Dean Anderson, an animal scientist at America’s Department of Agriculture, and Daniela Rus, a computer expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the answer is to move from real fencing to the virtual sort. The idea of virtual fencing is not entirely new. Pet “containment” systems, such as virtual dog collars, have been around since the early 1970s. But previous attempts to come up with system for controlling free-ranging animals have failed.
Dr Anderson and Dr Rus started from the observation that the job of a fence is merely to regulate an animal’s behaviour and asked if there was another way of achieving the same end. The result is a device dubbed the Ear-a-round, which acts both as a sensor of what an animal is up to and as a discipline on animals that are not behaving as their owner wishes.
The Ear-a-round consists of a small, light box that sits on top of a cow’s head, and a pair of earpieces made of fabric and plastic. The box contains a computer chip, a GPS tracking device and a transceiver that enables it to be programmed remotely. The earpieces serve both to keep the box upright and to supply command signals—either sonic or electric—to the animal wearing the device. For maximum working lifetime, the whole thing is powered by lithium-ion batteries that are topped up by solar cells.
Immediate concern has been voiced that the new technology will result in a hundred grizzled Marlboro men standing in line at the Job Centre come Monday morning, but not so, says Dean M. Anderson (‘Ear-A-Round’ inventor) who insists quite lucidly that the focus is now upon shifting the cowboy’s mentality from that of ‘daily toil and hard physical labour to a greater psychological understanding of bovine behaviour’. Right. And cows might fly.
They might… but I suspect that like the augmented animals experiments the Ear-a-round project will prove to be founded more on hyperbole than practicality. We love technology, we really do – but it’s not the answer to all of the world’s problems. Sometimes less is more, and we are sure that the simplicity and poetry of a fine working dog can never be replaced by mindless circuits and wiring.
I recently posted one story on the ways an artist proposed to use technology to improve the lives of dogs and another about how researchers used a robotic dog to try to study how docked tails might affect dog-dog interactions. I still don’t agree that artificial hackles or LED tails will help dogs live more meaningful lives or that using a robotic dog to study how real dogs interact with each other is scientifically valid but…. In a recent bit of internet research I was stunned to see how much time people spend comparing man’s best friend to man’s next friend.
Here’s a couple of examples of how robots might benefit real dogs:
I adored this robotic ball-throwing machine and the incredibly cool dachshund that enjoys playing with it – in moderation. (but I am quite sure that my kelpie would kill herself if we had one of these…..)
Here’s a nifty remote robotic dog treat dispenser. It lets you IM treats to your dog!
Now here’s some examples of how humans might use robotic dogs to improve our lives:
Check out the creepy robotic “dog” developed by defense contractors. Frankly, this one didn’t strike me as particularly doglike. Was that because it sounds like a hive of electronic bees or perhaps because it because it HAS NO HEAD? Yuck.
Hey! This is the perfect pet for those folks who want a dog but don’t want to bother with training it!
Is this a robot dog or a human in dog suit mimicking a dog robot? You decide.
NSFW robotic dog controlled by a television ventriloquist
A real dog attacks a robotic dog WITH A LONG TAIL!
Today we can modify the appearance of our canine companions by docking their tails, cropping their ears, chalking them, tattooing them, giving them dental implants and pumping them up with neuticles.
As controversial these methods may be, they may represent just the first step in the re-molding of the canine species.
Artist James Auger wonders if evolution might not be improved with the help of technology. His controversial and sometimes unsettling new book, “Augmented Animals” is an exploration in how technological enhancements might be used to help animals survive in modern environments or just to lead more comfortable lives.
One of Auger’s projects is an LED light that can translate tail wagging into English. The device would fit on a dog’s tail and flash text messages as the tail waves through the air. Auger reportedly plans to have a working product ready to display by September of this year.
It’s an interesting idea – but based on the bit of information provided on Auger’s and MOMA’s websites, the device appears to simply be based on the speed that a dog’s tail wags. Current research and common sense tell us that a dog uses much more than just the rate of wagging to provide information. The height of the tail and the degree to which left or right wagging predominates also provide information – as do an entire constellation of other postures associated with the wag.
Auger has also designed an augmented dog hackle. He wrote that, “The natural ability to raise the hair along the length of his back when confronted with dangerous situations has been lost in many domestic breeds. This proposal suggests automated hackles. Either heart rate variation monitoring registers change in the dog’s autonomous nervous system activity automatically activate the mechanism or the dog’s owner sensing confrontation in the park activates the mechanism by remote control.” He adds that he has tested this device at a park and stated it worked to scare other dogs away.
Huh? This fellow may be a technological guru and a talented artiste, but methinks he’s no expert on dogs. First, heart rate is not a good predictor of arousal in dogs. Again, we must note that emotional reactions are part of a constellation of physiological and sensory mechanisms in living beings. One can not simply choose one, simple to measure, physiological parameter and arbitrarily use it to measure emotion. Second, dogs don’t raise their hackles to scare other dogs off. Hackles are raised as part of arousal reactions. Dogs can be aroused in many situations that don’t involve fear or the need to drive intruders away.
Auger has also proposed development of a canine respirator to protect dogs from “unpleasant” odors. O-Kay. But I want to know who defines what “unpleasant” is. Dogs adore the smells of feces, trash and rotting dead things. We don’t need to protect them from that. I sincerely hope that Auger’s doggy respirator is designed to filter out the distasteful odors of such things as Chanel No. 22 (one of my favorites), Febreeze, potpourri and baths. I do think that dog’s might find that useful.
So, do these items this simply represent an artistic statement? Were they designed to make us think about the state of animals in an urban world?
Auger states that “I’m serious about the ideas behind these products, I think the fact that some of them could be realized means that as concepts they tread the scary line between fact and fiction and therefore are taken a little more seriously.”
Seriously? Please. Considering the time, money and effort that would have to go into anything even remotely resembling mass production of this junk, the money and time involved would provide a much more dramatic and meaningful result if they were simply applied to measures like resource conservation and education.
Sorry Mr. Artiste, but technology is NOT the answer to all of the world’s problems. I know that it’s dirty and it’s ugly and it doesn’t provide much in the way of publicity, but simply using less and appreciating it more has the potential to make a much bigger and more long-lasting positive impact on the world than designing and making more stuff.
I’m not the only one who thinks that fitting animals with expensive, invasive experimental gadgets is unethical. Jeffery R. Harrow, author of “The Harrow Technology Report” doesn’t like the idea either.
“Any time we mess with nature’s evolutionary process we run the very real risk of changing things for the worse since we have very limited scope in determining the longer term results,” Harrow says. “With the possible exception of endangered species and probably not even those because our modifications would by definition change the species, we must be exceedingly careful or we might change our biosphere in ways later generations might abhor.”
A South Korean biotechnology company has received its first order to clone a dog. The company states that if the project is successful, they plan to begin regular commercial production next year.
Am I the only one who gets the creeps when I read that?
I mean I am DEEPLY, STUPIDLY in love with my dogs. I spend countless hours of time and many thousands of dollars on their training, care and recreation. My interest in dogs has gone well beyond eccentric and may, in fact, push the boundaries of obsession – but I can not imagine plunking down $150,000 for a replication of even my most beloved dog.
It’s just wrong.
The sleeping beast at my feet isn’t a simple expression of the genes he inherited. To paraphrase B.F. Skinner, “he is a locus, a point at which many genetic and environmental conditions come together in a joint effect.”
My dog is utterly unique. The thoughts, senses and experiences of his nine months on this earth have as much to do with who and what he is as the genes that created his lovely body. A dog is not a commodity that can be factory-produced to exacting specifications. Dogs are living beings, and even when one considers them at the scale of littermates, each is as unique as a snowflake or a fingerprint.
“The cloning of
humansdogs is on most of the lists of things to worry about from science, along with behavior control, genetic engineering, transplanted heads, computer poetry and the unrestrained growth of plastic flowers.”
Are we headed for a world where people no longer feel comfortable with nature?
In a recent study conducted at the University of Illinois at Chicago, trends in the number of Americans visiting natural areas like State Parks, National Forests and campgrounds were analyzed. Investigators also reviewed trends in the numbers of outdoor licenses (fishing, hunting, trapping, backpacking, etc.) issued during the study period. Results indicated that the number of visits by Americans to natural area peaked between 1981 and 1991 after 50 years of steady increases. They further showed that visits have steadily decreased since that peak at a rate of approximately 1% per year.
According to Patricia Zaradic of the Environmental Leadership Program and co-author of the report published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA. “It would take 80 million more visits this year to get the per capita number back up to the level it was in 1987.”
According to a study published by the White Hutchinson Leisure & Learning group;
“If children’s natural attraction to nature is not given opportunities to be flourish during their early years of life, biophobia, an aversion to nature may develop. Biophobia ranges from discomfort in natural places to contempt for whatever is not man-made, managed or air-conditioned. Biophobia is also manifest in regarding nature as nothing more than a disposable resource.”
Communing without nature…
This aversion to nature has become increasingly common in people raised in suburban surroundings where nature is tolerated only in as much as it cooperates as a decorative accent. We are creating a world where young people prefer to learn about nature though Podcasts, interactive computer games, television and surfing the web rather than by actually experiencing it.
Have we become a society where we are more comfortable with technology than nature?
And there’s more to this than just the allure of those nifty electronic devices… Richard Louv, chairman of the Santa Fe, N.Mex.–based Children and Nature Network and author of “Last Child in the Woods”, ascribes the change to increasing school and work pressure on children and parents. He’s also concerned about the fear factor. “You didn’t have the concept of stranger danger [in the past],” Louv says. If you are raising a generation under protective house arrest, will they have a joyful experience in nature?”
Now that we have a media more interested in making news than reporting it, the concept of ‘stranger danger’ (much like that of killer pibbles) has been blown utterly out of proportion. Sadly, 85% of all children who are molested are the victims of people they know well, they are not attacked by strangers. Statistically speaking, your child is likely in more danger at home or at school as he or she is out on a hike. But the never-ending string of heart-rending stories about children kidnapped and brutalized by random strangers hyped by the media not only affects us all – it also gives us a false sense of danger.
Your creepy uncle Edwin is likely far more dangerous to your child than that random killer you’ve never met. Not just because Edwin is, statistically speaking, far more likely to molest your child but also because your deep, (understandable) but misplaced fear of that nameless, faceless stranger keeps you from allowing your child to experience the joy, beauty and freedom that time alone with nature provides.
Watching a spider build her web, eating fresh picked gooseberries, catching frogs, climbing trees, looking for shooting stars, and seeing fantastic creatures appear and then evaporate away in the shapes of clouds – you can’t reproduce those kinds of experiences electronically.
And without those kinds of direct, hands-on experiences, the value of nature is lost on us. Without it, we can’t know how inexplicably beautiful and awe-inspiring nature is and its impossible for us to have a real idea of how our actions impact the environment.
I could devote an entire book to how and why modern Americans fear nature and another one to the deleterious effects of that fear. Instead I’d like to propose a remedy for the epidemic. I believe that dogs are that remedy. Despite what Jon Katz, the author of “The New Work of Dogs” says, I think that one important reason we have been blessed with the companionship of these wonderful creatures is – their ability to re-connect us with nature.
If you have a dog, you need to walk it. Walking a dog means you have to be outdoors. Being outdoors with a dog involves spending time with a being that finds inexpressible joy in the smells, sights and sounds of nature. To a dog, urine is beautiful, bugs are interesting and grass is made to roll in. Walk your dog. Listen to your dog. Find the joy in the weeds in your lawn, the spider in your basement, the mice in your garage and the stars in the sky. Put away the iPod and your computer. Shut off your television, get out of your car and experience the world with your dog. I guarantee it’ll make you a better (and happier) person.