Introducing a strong contender for this year's award for most ridiculous sounding invention- the DogPhone.
The DogPhone is a small ball equipped with a sensor that can be connected to your laptop. When the dog interacts with the ball, its sensor flares up, initiating a video call with its owner's laptop.
Moving the ball is also required to answer incoming calls, meaning if your Dog doesn’t fancy zooming it’s their call.
It was developed by Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, a researcher at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, in collaboration with Zack, her 10-year-old Labrador. Hirskyj-Douglas has been working in the field of ‘Dog-tech’ for many years now, building a variety of devices focused on the user experiences of our pets.
While it may be tempting to imagine you can soon buy your own Dogphone and check in on your dog at the kennel while you're on holiday, the Dogphone was not created for commercial use.
Dr Hirskyj-Douglas makes clear that the phone was invented to study how Dogs experience and interact with technology, to inform future innovation in the world of our pets. This area of study has been spurred by the Pandemic, which saw us humans adopt digital communication technologies on a far greater scale during lockdown and adopt a lot of dogs.
With us all spending more time working from home with these pets, who were suddenly seeing Zoom calls left and right, it’s no wonder more attention has been paid to dogs relationship with technology.
What’s especially interesting about the DogPhone is its emphasis on giving your pets greater agency, with Hirskyl-Douglas commenting that these devices are important “to give dogs choices or options to do things for enrichment reasons.”
She found that her dog Zack would call her up on quite a regular basis each day, and would experience anxiety when he didn’t. “It became a bit more anxious for me near the end” Hirskyl-Douglas commented “because sometimes I wouldn’t get a video call or he wouldn’t ring me through the day, and I would be thinking, ‘Oh, he usually rings me at this time”
The development of tech like the DogPhone prompts endless questions, not just about its capacity to influence and strengthen our relations, but also of the extent to which animals are capable of using and understanding it.
We know for example that monkeys are intelligent enough to steal phones and take selfies but would a dog understand what is going on during a video call?
We know Dogs can be primed by techniques like pavlovian conditioning to perform specific tasks for rewards. Maybe this would apply to the DogPhone, where they know moving the ball at a specific time summons their owner?
Would a dog even experience a strong desire to “check-in” on us when we aren't there? With dogs incredibly short short-term memory (National Geographic has reported that dogs forget an event within two minutes!) would they remember rolling the ball automatically calls their owner?
Once we answer questions like these and get dogs fully immersed in the digital sphere, we have to confront one final question. Microsoft or Apple?
Jokes aside, the DogPhone is an interesting development, pointing towards a future where tech will provide meaningful ways to better understand and communicate with our furry friends.
Image Credit: Adobe Stock