Accessibility statement
March 2017 - 

The Dog Internet

Dr Ben Kirman

How do we design technology for pets and do they really understand what these gadgets do?

How do we design technology for pets? As we continute to see the popularity in tech such as activity trackers and smart watches for humans, we are starting to see such gadgetry being sold for domestic pets. For example, Whistle, FitBark, and TailTalk, are devices that attach to dogs’ bodies and record data using a range of sensors and radio transmitters and PawTrack uses GPS to monitor the roaming of cats. However, do our pets really understand what these gadgets do?

A photo of a black dog playing with the Dog Radar product, a system designed to help dogs track their humans.

Do they actually benefit from these technologies? And how does this change our relationships with them? The Dog Internet is an ongoing design project that explores the issues around building technology for non-human companion animals. A series of speculative prototypes have been constructed that explore different challenges around designing pet technology.

For example, DOG RADAR is a system designed to help dogs track their humans, a radio receiver is built into a soft toy to detect when their human is approaching their house, giving the dog advance warning. However, once the human is home the toy reverts to an inert state that hides its purpose from the human.

A photograph of the modified dog kennel within which the Dog CAPTCHA is contained.

DOG CAPTCHA is an interface to the Dog Internet that is built into a modified wooden dog kennel. Just as the distorted text in web CAPTCHAs allows the human internet to know you are 'not a robot', the DOG CAPTCHA uses dogs' powerful sense of smell to prevent humans from access. Inside the kennel, a fine mist of anal secretions is sprayed from the hindquarters. Based on the response, the system is able to prove the user is a dog and not a human.

These prototypes, among others, allow us to better understand the problems inherent in designing for non-humans, including issues such as consent, privacy and autonomy.