A new device can help visually impaired individuals better monitor their guide dogs’ health and well-being.
The prototype, developed by researchers at North Carolina State University, comprises a high-tech harness—similar to the style used by handlers of guide dogs—that monitors a dog’s breathing and heart rate.
The information is disseminated to the owner through a vibration on the device. While holding the harness handle, a handler will feel two sets of vibrations: one that mimics the dog's breathing (increasing in intensity as the breathing does), and another that vibrates in time with the dog’s heart rate. Handlers can use this information to determine is a dog is stressed, scared, or even showing early signs of heat exhaustion.
Researchers hope this technology can eventually lead to more longevity for working guide dogs.
“It is widely believed that stress is a significant contributing factor to early retirement of guide dogs and other service animals,” explains lead author Sean Mealin, who is visually impaired and works with a guide dog.
The researchers recently published a paper on their findings, which explains why this technology is necessary as a way for visually impaired individuals to better read and communicate with their dogs.
“It can take years to gain some level of proficiency at reading canine body language, even under the best of circumstances. In the case of guide dogs and visually impaired handlers, this task is even more difficult,” the study reads.
The researchers are continuing to test the technology on handlers and hope to eventually make it accessible to the guide-dog handler community.
Previously, the team developed a “smart harness” for handlers of search-and-rescue dogs, working K-9s, and other types of service dogs. Modifying the technology so that it can be "read" by the visually impaired through the vibration is an exciting new breakthrough for this project.