People in the Western world spend a lot of money on their pets. If a loved animal becomes ill, it should of course receive the best treatment there is, no matter the cost. Surgery and even chemotherapy for pets are no longer unusual. To this we can add accessories for pets, which may range from jewelled collars to Louis Vuitton dog carriers – and now also wearable electronics.
Wearables for animals may be as simple as an ear chip that can be used to identify a lost animal, but they can also be much more elaborate. One of the more advanced examples is the Connected Collar from the company DogTelligent.
The dog collar is equipped with GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a connection to the mobile phone net. It has built-in micro-phone and loudspeaker, enabling owner and dog to ‘talk’ with each other at a distance, and it monitors the dog’s activities, providing clues to the animal’s health. It has built-in vibrator and ultrasound, which can be used to give the dog commands through a remote control or ‘punish’ it if it barks too much.
The collar even offers an ‘invisible leash’ and ‘invisible fence’, ensuring that the dog doesn’t run too far away and warns the owner if the dog leaves its permitted zone.
In Japan, you can get the collar Anicall for dogs and cats. It has four functions. First, it keeps an eye on the animal’s pulse and breathing to provide information about the animal’s health.
Secondly, it has a motion sensor and software that tries to analyse the animal’s mood from its movement patterns and allegedly can recognise 20 different emotions, including expectation and unease. Thirdly, other users of Anicall get messages on their smartphones if an animal that is reported lost is within Bluetooth range – with a picture to aid identification. Finally, you can see what other animals with Anicall collars that your pet has crossed paths with during the day. Who knows – maybe kitty has a secret boyfriend?
Connected Collar and Anicall are just two of many examples of wearables for pets. Another more common example is LEDs that make the animal easily visible at night. In this category we find Tail Lights, which transforms a horse’s tail into a gracefully waving rear light, and Poochlight, which can make your dog’s collar glow in many colours and patterns. Health monitors are also popular, an example being PetPace, which monitors temperature, pulse, breathing, and activity and shares the information not only with the owner, but also with the vet. For cats, you can also get a collar that electronically unlock a cat flap when the cat is nearby, but otherwise keeps it locked so no other animals can get in. if you really want to keep track of what your cat or dog is doing, you can even mount the video camera Dogtek Eyenimal on the pet’s collar. Among the more advanced wearables for animals we find No More Woof, a headset for dogs which can allegedly translate the dog’s thought into human speech. Now we just need a device that can make dogs understand human language.
Wearable technology isn’t just something for pets. Wild animals have for many years been equipped with chips that allow you to see where they come from and where they have been when you catch them.
In Africa, endangered rhinoceroses get chips implanted in their horns, so you can always see where they are – even after the horn has been removed by poachers. Cows and other farm animals can also benefit from electronics. You can e.g. get ear clamps that monitor the animal’s temperature and other vital signs and receive a warning if an animal shows signs of being sick – perhaps even before the sickness becomes noticeable with the naked eye.
This is important, since it is estimated that 40 percent of all cows become ill every year, which in the US alone means annual losses of about USD 5 billion.
The Texan company Vital Herd goes a step further with an electronic pill that a cow swallows, after which the pill provides information about pulse, breathing, stomach acidity, and hormone levels. Wearable sensors can also tell a farmer if a cow needs milking.
Hi-tech animals of the future
We can off hand point to five areas where wearable technology today is used in connection with animals:
In the future, we will get access to more advanced technology in these areas, but also within new and different fields. As an example, we have begun making prosthetics for hurt animals, typically made with a 3D printer. Birds have got replacement beaks, turtles have got replacement shells and jaws, and everything from cats and dogs to ducks, horses and elephants have received foot or leg prosthetics.
In the future, it is not unthinkable that we also will give pets mechanical bionic prostheses that are moved by nerve signals from the brain, of the type that we today have begun to give disabled humans. Animals that haven’t lost limbs, but have become lame or frail, may get intelligent leg braces that move the legs on the basis of nerve impulses or behavioural recognition.
In theory, such prosthetics or leg braces could allow a sort of remote control of the animals. If a dog with a mechanical prosthetic or leg brace e.g. moves out of its permitted zone, the leg can refuse to cooperate or even force the animal back. Who knows, perhaps this could become a replacement for leashes? It might sound like cruelty to animals, but many dogs every year get serious neck injuries from leashes or even choke on them, so it may be a more humane solution once we get used to the idea. It could also save loose dogs from running in front of cars – even automatically, if the dog is also equipped with sensors that can recognise perilous situations.
A special field is animals trained to handle various situations, including guard dogs, police dogs, guide dogs and hunting dogs. A guard dog could e.g. use communication equipment to alarm police or human guards when there are intruders in its domain. A police dog could be equipped with a Taser gun that can be remotely deployed by an officer. With translation tools like the aforementioned No More Woof, guide dogs can become better at communicating with their owners. If a hunting dog is equipped with a camera, the hunter will be better able to see what it is doing and perhaps through telecommunication order it to leave protected species and young animals alone. A dog trained to find hurt people in collapsed buildings or people lost in the wilderness could with the right equipment function as a medium in the communication between the persons in distress and aid organisations and through precise location data allow help to arrive faster.
As more and more dogs become equipped with GPS and other electronics that monitor their whereabouts, it may in time become a legal requirement that all dogs must be trackable and that authorities get access to data about the animals’ movements. This could e.g. be used to identify dogs that have attacked people or animals, or more prosaically dog owners who let their dogs defecate on public roads without cleaning up after them. Data about what dogs have been nearby at a certain time can narrow the range of suspects, and then genetic technology can be used to identify the real culprit. Authorities could also use data to see where a lot of dogs are walked and provide buckets for dog leavings as needed.
If the authorities, e.g. by way of vets, can access pet health data, this can be used to identify if there should be an epidemic of some animal disease in the offing and intervene before it spreads. The same technique can be used to discover epidemics among farm animals or wild animals. If endangered species like tigers, rhinoceroses or African elephants are equipped with sensors that tell if the animal is alive or not, it can be used to register poaching exactly when and where it happens and from this apprehend the guilty parties.
The opportunities in the internet of animals are many, and the author of this article hasn’t got the imagination to guess what it might be used for. Among other things, we will no doubt see pets having their own popular blogs where you can see what they are up to. On the internet of the future, everybody will know that you’re a dog.