A team from North Carolina State University has developed and customized a suite of technologies that allows a computer to train a dog autonomously. Sensors in the custom harness monitor a dog’s posture, and the computer effectively responds based on the animal’s body language.

Each harness also incorporates a small, card-sized computer that transmits the sensor data wirelessly.

For the study, the researchers wrote an algorithm that triggered a beeping sound and the release of dog treats from a nearby dispenser whenever the dog’s harness sensors detected a movement from standing to sitting.

The engineers worked with 16 volunteers (and their dogs) to optimize the algorithm, finding the best possible combination of speed and accuracy. The researchers then compared the algorithm’s timing and accuracy to that of an expert human trainer.

Next steps include teaching dogs to perform specific behaviors on cue, and integrating computer-assisted training and human-directed training for use in various service dog applications.

“In the long term, we’re interested in using this approach to animal-computer interaction to allow dogs to ‘use’ computers,” said David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State. “For example, allowing an explosive detection dog to safely and clearly mark when it detects components of a bomb, or allowing diabetic alert dogs to use their physical posture and behaviors to call for help.”

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