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Tag: dangers

When drones deliver will dogs get to growling? Amazon wants to know

drone

Reports surfaced this week that Amazon, as it continues to develop its top secret project to someday deliver packages by drones, has obtained a “simulated dog” so they can assess what obstacles dogs might pose to drones, and how to avoid them.

This is a real story. Honest.

It sounds a little like something out of an episode of Robot Wars, but the dangers dogs could pose to drones, and, more important, drones could pose to dogs, are well worth considering if this whole drone delivery idea is going to come to pass.

(Which I’d prefer it didn’t.)

Amazon doesn’t care what I think, though, and it is proceeding very secretly on the drone project, and looking at how to equip drones with enough artificial intelligence (beyond GPS) for them to cope with what postal carriers have long been coping with — everything from dogs to clotheslines.

Ironically, the Amazon simulated dog story came out same day the Postal Service released its latest dog bite figures, which are undergoing the largest increase in three decades.

Dog attacks on postal workers rose last year to 6,755, up 206 from the previous year — but the increase comes amid double-digit increases in the post office’s package business. Postal carriers are visiting more homes more frequently and at all times of day, often burdened with packages, thanks to agreements the Postal Service struck with Amazon in 2013 and 2014.

In other words, the more Internet shopping we all do, the greater burden we put on postal carriers, thereby increasing the chances for them to be victims of dog bites.

Unless of course packages are being delivered by drones, as Amazon — clearly the biggest catalyst in online shopping’s growth — proposes to do.

If there’s a conspiracy theory that might apply to all this, please feel free to apply it. Because I can’t come up with one.

According to the International Business Times, Amazon is using the simulated dogs as it conducts tests with drones in the UK.

It is not known how many simulated dogs there are in Amazon’s pack or what, if any, behaviors they’ve been programmed to imitate — barking, biting, tail-wagging?

410I1FkDAkLNor is it known whether Amazon created them, procured them from a contractor, or ordered them from themselves.

Amazon has been testing delivery drones since 2015. In July 2016 it signed a partnership with the UK government to explore the safe use of UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicles) to make deliveries in rural and suburban areas.

There are plenty of rough spots still to be figured out, most of them dealing with the drone’s use of air space.

But, once it comes time for a drone to land, one of the major concerns is going to be dogs. The drones will deliver packages, guided by GPS, and leave them on a special welcome mat the customer has placed on a front porch or a back patio.

Some dogs, I suspect, will cower in fear when a drone appears overhead; maybe a few will take them in stride, but many will see them as humming and hovering monsters, intent on trying to invade their territory.

(Which, to me, is a pretty accurate description.)

A drone’s blades can inflict serious damage, and ingesting a drone’s parts could also be a hazard. And Amazon is not unaware of the potential liabilities.

So now it’s researching how to give drones some artificial intelligence — to equip them with the ability to protect themselves when they sense a danger to themselves or others.

Given it’s a dog friendly company, it’s not likely Amazon will arm drones to spray cayenne pepper when a dog approaches.

Dropping a couple of treats — charming as that would be, and though it works well for postal carriers — probably wouldn’t work, either.

More likely, the drones will be taught to just abort their landing and return to their home base if a dog’s presence is sensed.

That could ruin many a “same day delivery,” but, unless you are ordering insulin, is that really so important?

The best solution is pretty obvious. Drop the fanciful and futuristic pipe dream. Keep the skies clear. Let humans make the deliveries.

I’ll gladly wait another day, or two, or three, for my package in exchange for the benefits that would offer — jobs, peace and quiet, and safer dogs and children among them.

(Photos: At top, an Amazon delivery drone, courtesy of Amazon.com; lower, the Genibo SD Robotic Dog, available from Amazon)

Should we let our cats play video games?

If I had a cat — and I don’t — I would never let it play video games.

Why would anyone want to take an animal that is always so joyously in the moment — in the natural moment — and immerse it in an artificial, non-tactile, monotonously repetitious, pixelated, and quite possibly addicting world where time passes in a blur?

To take the house pet perhaps best known for being able to make a game out of anything — string, toilet paper roll, dust bunny — and put a $200 iPad in front of it so it can paw at virtual fish? That just strikes me as wrong.

It might be fun for you to watch the first time, and it might even be amusing for the feline for a while.

ipads-for-catsBut then it becomes more obsession than play, and your feline, once a wildly imaginative beast with an admirable knack for making anything fun, is stalking the room, zombie-like, Jonesing for his iPad.

Then, when you try to take their iPads away, they become evil tantrum-throwing monsters who no longer see joy, mystery and adventure in something as mundane as a cardboard box or paper bag.

Sure, it is all starting out innocently enough. Remember, though, we humans started with Pong before progressing to virtual murder and mayhem. If history is any indication cat computer play will progress into darker realms — to the point where cats are tuning the real world out and, albeit virtually, engaging in pretend sex and violence, car theft even, on their computers.

Am I exaggerating to ridiculous proportions? Clearly. But seriously, taking the long view, is this best for cats?

Or will we, with all good intentions, slowly drive them insane?

How long, for example, can you watch this before feeling a certain panic in your soul?

Video games for cats have been catching on for several years now — to the point that even some animal shelters have turned to them.

The Regina Humane Society in Canada turned to iPads last year to keep their resident cats occupied and engaged.

“This is just another way, another tool in our toolbox that allows us to keep our animals healthy and happy while they’re awaiting their special someone who’s going to take them home forever,” said Lisa Koch, executive director.

“Owned cats around the world have apps that they play with on their owners [iPads], and it’s something that we’ve adopted here at the Humane Society for cats who don’t have families to make the environment that they’re living in more stimulating for them mentally.”

Koch said these programs are meant to keep cats active and stimulate them mentally.

Stimulate? Maybe. But does laying down and pawing a mouse on a $200 screen keep a cat more active than batting an actual $1.29 play mouse around the room and chasing it?

Lost, too, if we let cats live their nine lives in the virtual world, is interaction with humans. High-tech pet toys that bill themselves as “interactive” have a way of removing a human’s resolve to spend one-on-one time with their pet, to the point where they no longer feel much need to do so. It’s like setting child in front of TV set for three hours.

The Regina Humane Society does good and noble work, and maybe in a shelter situation, where it’s challenging to keep all the animals occupied, something like this is acceptable.

On the other hand, cats are already the ultimate game inventors. We should be pinpointing what is in them — a play gene? — that makes them so able to look at a spool of thread, a pencil, a puzzle piece, and see an amusement park.

Instead, we appear headed to making them as addicted to the computer screen as we are?

Fireworks: Do we really need the bang?

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There are only two possible explanations for this stand I am about to take:

One, I have come around to my dog’s way of thinking on the matter of fireworks, which is that they are to be feared, freaked out by, and avoided at all costs, even if it means hiding in the bathtub.

Two, I have become a certifiable old fart.

Oh wait, there’s a third possibility: Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

I am speaking here of the entire gamut of fireworks, from big sanctioned municipal events to small backyard displays to solo performances by those who feel the need to mindlessly fire a gun into the air while intoxicated.

With New Year’s behind us, and the Fourth of July ahead, I pose the question: Do we really need any of it? And, if so, is it possible to have the spectacle without the noise?

There’s a town in Italy, called Collecchio, that has reportedly introduced legislation requiring people to use “silent fireworks” out of respect to animals, for whom the noise causes some serious stress.

That’s an idea worth importing.

Other than a reference on a travel website, I couldn’t find a lot of information about the proposal on the Internet. Then again, on the Internet, good and quiet ideas tend to get buried by loud, stupid and flashy ones.

Nor could I find any truly “silent” fireworks. There are a few videos on YouTube that claim to feature “silent” or “quiet” fireworks, but the companies behind them seem to be promising more than they are delivering.

In the UK, this past November, Birmingham Botanical Gardens offered a silent fireworks show they promised would be “ideal for the little ones,” but it was followed by complaints from parents who said they were forced to leave because the loud noises frightened their children, according to a BBC report.

Why is it society has been able to come up with the technology to put silencers on guns, but not on fireworks?

Fireworks have been an American tradition for more than 200 years, and any voice calling for putting a muzzle on them — much like any voice calling for gun control — is likely to be blasted as unpatriotic.

For dogs, they are more than just annoying. They confuse and stress out many dogs, often leading them to run away, sometimes getting hit by cars in the process. They have negative effects on birds and other animals, too, not to mention air quality and all the injuries to humans the do-it-yourself variety cause.

But the spectacle, and the tenuous link to patriotism, somehow rate as more important than all that.

Even in an age of heightened fears over terrorists, we still feel the need to see and hear the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air. We need to see and hear what is, in effect, a re-creation of war.

Fireworks displays are like Donald Trump — big and loud and in your face, full of bangs, booms and bombast, a spewing spectacle that prides itself in being outrageous and pushing the limits.

I would not mind in the least if they both went away. But neither is likely to, even though there are quieter, saner alternatives.

Laser light shows are one, but they don’t seem to have wowed us like traditional fireworks displays.

When an air pollution control district in California offered three towns $10,000 to call off their fireworks shows and replace them with laser light shows in 2012, none of the towns accepted the offer.

“You can’t have a Fourth of July show with just light beams,” one fair official said. “It would have been two minutes and the kids would have been done and gone.”

Another California town, Morro Bay, tried a light show in 2009 — due to predictions of a foggy night — but says it won’t do it again.

“It was like a bad Pink Floyd concert,” one official said.

I’m not sure there is such a thing as silent fireworks or, for that matter, such a thing as a bad Pink Floyd concert. But both my dog and I — while not being so brash as to suggest celebrating peace instead of war — cast a vote for quieter celebrations.

Here’s a not entirely quiet example, from a company that provides “quiet” fireworks for weddings and other events:

(Photo: Freestockphotos.biz)

Evacuating Japan: Will pets be left behind?

Will families of American military personnel in Japan be forced to leave their pets behind when they evacuate?

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is seeking the anwer to that question.

In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the non-profit organization asks for a clarification of the U.S. government’s policy on whether or not military families can bring their pets with them — or must be forced to choose between staying in harm’s way and abandoning a beloved companion.

Family members of military personnel stationed in Japan began evacuating today amid the increasing threat of radioactivity in the wake of last week’s earthquake and tsunami.

ALDF says it has received desperate emails from some of them, who say they’ve been informed pets will not be allowed on evacuation planes chartered by the U.S. Department of State.

“In a context of terrifying natural and nuclear disasters, with military personnel and their families already being separated from each other, we would hope that the U.S. government would not place an additional burden on military families by disregarding the very real bonds they have with their animal companions” said Carter Dillard, ALDF’s director of litigation.

“It is our hope that the tragedy of people forced to abandon beloved pets in order to evacuate to safety, which we saw play out on a heartbreaking scale during Hurricane Katrina, is not replicated during the current crisis in Japan.”

ALDF says it has heard from numerous families who say they are hesitant to evacuate from the escalating radiation danger if they are required to leave their pets behind.

Some families have turned to Facebook for help, including Mariaelena Rodriguez Geoffray, shown above with her dog, Bella. Seeking a commercial flight, she has been told by two airlines that temperatures are too cold to fly a pet.

Her dilemma is recounted on the blog Two Little Cavaliers.

There are about 43,000 dependents of American military personnel living in Japan.

Owl takes dog on a two-mile flight

sadieandownerThere ‘s an incredible tale in the Quad City Times today about an owl that swooped down on a Pomeranian, grasped the tiny dog in its talons and took her on a two-mile flight.

Sadie’s flight last weekend covered between 24 to 30 city blocks before she either freed herself or was dropped, falling through the Iowa night sky and landing next to a street in Davenport.

The fall broke her tail and bruised her, but she survived and is recovering.

Sadie’s owner, Michelle McCarten, was watching fireworks with friends when the dog, frightened by the noise, jumped off the porch and ran to a nearby wooded area. Despite McCarten’s calls, and a search by friends, she couldn’t be found.

Two miles away, Jamie Padden of Davenport had brought her car to a halt at a stop sign when she was a small dog falling through the air. “It dropped out of nowhere,” she said. The dog landed right in front of her Jeep.

The owl glided down and again set upon the dog, which scrambled to get away. Padden open her car door and started screaming at the large owl.

When the owl departed, Padden scooped up the whimpering dog, took it home, gave it a bath and called police to report the incident. Then she took the dog to bed with her.

The next morning, Sadie’s owner and a friend, Kris Overstreet, resumed their search, calling police in Davenport about the missing dog. The police gave them Padden’s number.

Padden delivered the dog to her owner, who was in tears, the newspaper reported. Though no one really knows how long the dog was airborne, the distance from the woods where the owl was known to hang out and the spot where Sadie landed is about two miles.

Sadie is reportedly still shaky, and suffered bruises on her hind end and a broken tail. “She’s nervous. I’m giving her an aspirin a day,” McCarten said. “Getting her back is my best early Christmas present.”

(Photo:  Michelle McCarten and Sadie, by Jeff Cook/Quad-City Times)

You can teach a mold dog new tricks

Oreo-Laughing-715332Among all the things dogs’ noses are sniffing out to make the world a better and safer place — drugs, explosives, missing children, fleeing felons, diseases, bedbugs, pirated cds, sewage leaks, cell phones in prisons — here’s one I hadn’t heard of:

Mold.

A Princeton, New Jersey, company is using canines to detect potentially lethal mold in homes, offices and classrooms.

1-800-GOT-MOLD?  calls itself America’s leading mold inspection company, and claims to be the nation’s first franchise operation to recruit man’s best friend to pinpoint the location of hidden mold in buildings, preventing potential health dangers, which include fatigue, headaches, respiratory problems, and even cancer.

Mold Dogs (and the term has been trademarked) can locate the source of hidden mold growth, even in its early stages.

The company’s founder, Jason Earle, realized that  traditional mold-detection involved a lot of guesswork. While air sampling is commonly used to detect household molds, it often fails to locate the precise source of the problem.

 Mold Dogs save time and money and allow the company to avoid unnecessary invasive procedures, according to Earle, who suffered from mold-related health complications as a child.

Earle’s dog Oreo is the first mold detection dog in the northeast and one of the first nationwide, he says.

(Photo: Oreo, courtesy of 1-800-GOT-MOLD? )

Wondering where the Greenies went?

If you’re not noticing Greenies on your store shelves these days, that’s because their maker, Nutro Products, Inc., has restricted those selling them to veterinary hospitals and pet specialty retailers.

In a press release issued last week, Nutro announced the change applies to Greenies canine and feline dental chews, Pill Pockets and Smart Biscuits.

“…We believe that pet medical professionals at veterinary hospitals and well-trained, knowledgeable staff at pet specialty stores are best equipped to answer pet owners’ questions about our products, and to make the right recommendation, said Carolyn Hanigan, Vice President of Marketing, Nutro Products, Inc.

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