Scientists have created a haptic vest that allows humans to control dogs remotely using vibrations to direct their behavior. What a simple and fantastic idea.
Dogs are usually trained to perform any tasks using behavioral science techniques. The most effective training method is positive reinforcement through clicker-training, Each time the dog does what you want him to do, you immediately make a clicking sound and give the dog a treat. With time, just like with Pavlov's dogs, the furry good boy or girl will learn that a command is associated with an action and a potential reward, therefore giving humans a way to control their behavior.
However, this doesn’t work if the dog can’t hear you or see you, which is the case in disaster areas where it can be too noisy, or for rescue dogs that have to go into places that humans can’t follow.
But researchers at Ben-Gurion University in Israel have found a solution for this: a remote controlled haptic vest.
The scientists modified a typical dog vest with wireless circuitry and vibration motors that can tap dogs in different ways and parts of their bodies. According to the researchers, it took only one hour to train their good boy to perform each command using the haptic vest as the cue. Their six-year-old black lab and german shepherd mutt Tai performed perfectly, according to researcher Yoav Golan.
Talking to IEEE Spectrum, Golan said that “it was surprisingly easy” to train Tai. “I am not a professional trainer in any way, but it still did not take long to teach him the different commands,” he said, “it is important to note that Tai already knew the four commands vocally, meaning that the training was more of a "translation" to haptic commands, rather than training a new command altogether.”
Golan trained Tai to associate four commands with different four 1.5-second-long vibration patterns: a constant front vibration turned into a spin move, a pulsing vibration on the front right was translated into back walking, a pulse on the front left made Tai approach the human, and constant vibration on the back make Tai to lay down.
According to the scientists, the vest can be used for search and rescue operations as well as for military and police dogs, but also for regular people who want to communicate with their dogs across long distances or gain control of them when they run away in the park. God knows I can really use this thing when my good boy Elvis darts into the forest.