The future of pets

At North Carolina State University, a group of computer scientists, electrical engineers, and veterinary behaviorists is developing a “smart harness” that collects a dog’s biometric data to help humans understand what the animal is thinking and feeling. The harness looks like a Kevlar vest for canines. It has sensors that monitor heart rate, respiratory rate, and other indicators, plus a microcomputer that can identify and interpret patterns in those biometric measures.

The smart harness is being developed for guide dogs, police dogs, and other service dogs. But David Roberts, a computer scientist working on the project, hopes a version will be available to the general public within five years. He says the harness could send owners alerts from their pets—a text message, perhaps, telling them that their dog is anxious or excited or scared. In a decade or two, the harness might be able to sync with a smart home, where sensors could triangulate information from inside the house (a lamp falling over in the living room, for instance) with data from the dog’s vest (say, a spike in heart rate) to tell owners why their dogs are feeling the way they feel.

The harness can also help people train their dogs. An app can make the vest vibrate in certain places to remotely command the dog to sit, for example, or turn left. The harness can even be preprogrammed to train a dog on its own. For instance, a speaker in the vest might play a recorded command, and sensors could then determine whether the dog obeyed. The vest syncs to a treat dispenser, so that good behavior can be reinforced.