July 22, 2024

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Digitally first class

Hoping for a dog phone? You may have a long wait.

Hoping for a dog phone? You may have a long wait.

By Christine Chung, The New York Times Company

Away from home, dog owners can use technology to talk to their pets, track their every movement, launch projectile treats into the air and even spy on them while they’re sleeping.

Dogs themselves can’t do much more than watch longingly out the window. Maybe that’s why the possibility of a “DogPhone” briefly entranced the media world. Who wouldn’t want to take that call?

But the new research that inspired those stories, led by Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, an assistant professor at the University of Glasgow, was mostly aspirational.

The study involved only one dog. The device was not an actual phone, nor is anything of the kind close to market. And the results were, at best, inconclusive.

Using a ball equipped with a motion-detecting device that triggers video calling, Hirskyj-Douglas, whose specialty is animal-computer interaction, gave her 10-year-old Labrador retriever, Zack, the power to call her by just moving his toy.

“I thought something like this could help dogs in some way to have more control and have choices,” Hirskyj-Douglas said in an interview. “We decide so much of their lives that maybe having this choice alone is kind of exciting in itself.”

The research, published last month in the journal Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, took place over the course of 16 days, with variations in the sensitivity of the device. Zack was not trained to use the so-called DogPhone, the researchers said.

During the experiment, Zack called Hirskyj-Douglas about five times a day and more than 50 times in all. Almost all of the calls appeared to have been made by accident, the study said.

“Dog was playing with his pig and accidentally nudged the ball,” the record of one 30-second call reads.

“Dog called by accident (climbing onto sofa) and then went to sleep,” reads the next, lasting 16 seconds.

And in dozens of calls, the dog was asleep when he nudged the motion sensor into action. “Dog sleeping cuddling the ball.”