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Tag: project

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)

Jessie the beagle’s castle under the stairs

jessie2

Tom Wadsworth took a storage area under a staircase and converted it into a Victorian cottage retreat for his beagle, Jessie.

For just a little over £100 — about $130 — Wadsworth, who lives in Plymouth, England, put together a spacious room with a picket fence, a secret door, a four-poster bed, and historical photographs, all of them bearing Jessie’s beagle head.

“I finished it last week. I originally did the outside but then Facebook and social media told me to do the inside as well so I did,” Wadsworth said. All together, it took about a month.

jessie1“I just want people to see what they could do with spaces they don’t think about,” he added.

Jessie had been sleeping in a pen in the living room. She was hesitant to move into her cottage at first, but now she loves it.

“We moved her bean bag into where the bed is. It took her a while to learn how to use the secret door but now she used it every day and night.”

The outside features climbing vines, a window for her to look through and a Victorian style lantern, according to a report in The Herald.

Friends and family frequently come by to see it, and Wadsworth says some have accused him of having too much time on his hands.

He says Jessie seems to appreciate the new set up and keeps her room tidy: “She’s got a pretty good temperament and knows what’s her space and to respect it.”

An Act of Dog: A memorial to the millions of shelter dogs put down in America


It’s easy to ignore statistics. They’re cold and dry and lack soulful eyes. And when the numbers are overwhelming — like the 5,500 unwanted dogs who are put to death daily in U.S. shelters — we tend, as a rule, to find life is more comfortable and less depressing when we don’t do the math.

Louisville artist Mark Barone is an exception to that rule. Rather than ignore the problem, he decided to put a face on it — 5,500 of them, in fact.

For two years now, he has been painting portraits of dogs who have been put down at shelters across the country, and he’s more than halfway to his goal: 5,500 portraits that he hopes will someday — unlike their subjects — find a forever home.

Barone and his partner, Marina Dervan, call the project “An Act of Dog.”

Their hope is the works will someday be displayed in a permanent memorial museum, which — between its emotional impact and the funds it would help raise for no-kill rescues and shelters — could help lead to their larger goal,  a no-kill nation.

Mark, a well-established artist, had moved to Santa Fe when, about three years ago, he lost his dog of 21 years, Santina.

“It was kind of a sad time, and I thought it would be therapeutic for Mark to go to the dog park,” Marina recalled. “I thought it would be helpful for him to get some dog love, and it was. It was really great. It got me in the mood to think about adopting another dog. Mark wasn’t at that stage, but it didn’t stop me from looking.”

Looking for adoptable dogs online and at local shelters, she quickly learned the sad reality that she says neither she nor Mark, up to then, were aware of — that millions of dogs in need of homes are put down at shelters every year.

“Instead of finding a dog, I found out all these horrifying statistics,” she said. She shared them with Mark, along with images and videos of dogs who had been, or were on the verge of, being put down.

He asked her to stop sharing, but she kept up.

“If we don’t look at it, nothing will change,” she said. “So he looked at it, as painful as it was, and day or two later, we were standing in the kitchen and he asked me the number of dogs killed everyday in the country … I gave him the number 5,500, based on statistics from Best Friends.”

It was then that the idea of honoring shelter dogs by painting 5,500 portraits of those who had been killed was born, and along with it, the longer term plan of a memorial museum, along the lines of the Vietnam Memorial and the Holocaust Museum.

First, they started looking for the studio space to get started on the task, mailing out inquiries in search of a city or town that might offer free space for him to paint.

Santa Fe wasn’t interested. Louisville was among about 30 places that were.

That’s where the couple lives now, and where Mark has completed about 3,200 of the portraits — some of them life- sized, some of them larger.

“It’s the big ones, 8 feet by 8 feet, that slow things down,” Mark said.

Only one of the 8×8-foot paintings depicts a dog who died a natural death — Mark’s dog, Santina. According to Marina, Santina will serve as the gatekeeper of the exhibit. Other large portraits feature  Batman, a 10-year-old pit bull who was left outside in 21 degree weather, and was found dead at a shelter the next morning, and Grant, who was deemed unadoptable due food bowl aggression and put down.

The large paintings — there will be 10 of them — will include the individual stories of those dogs, representing the most common reasons shelters give to put animals down.

“It’s pretty much the wall of shame,” Marina said.

Mark and Marina are still looking for a permanent place to house the works, and for sponsors and benefactors for the museum, and they have some promising leads, both in Louisville and around the country. In addition to being an educational center, the museum would also be an outlet for selling merchandise that features the images — shirts, cards, and other products. An Act of Dog, which is a nonprofit organization, would pass on all profits to no-kill facilities and rescue groups.

The dogs in the paintings come from shelters all around the country. Their photos are submitted by rescue groups, volunteers and shelter employees. They have all been put down.

Mark and Marina object to the use of the term “euthanized” when it’s applied to healthy animals. “Deliberately ending the life of a healthy and treatable pet is killing.  Deliberately ending the life of a medically hopeless and suffering pet is euthanasia,” Marina said. They don’t much like “put to sleep,” either.

“Semantics are a powerful way to keep people from the truth and our mission is to show reality without the candy wrapping,” she added.

Mark paints everyday, from sunrise to sunset. At night, he and Marina work on the An Act of Dog website. They’re both foregoing salaries at this point.

Mark has served as a consultant to cities interested in using the arts to revitalize blighted areas, among them Paducah, Kentucky, and its Paducah Artist Re-locaton Program. Marina worked 20 years coaching corporate executives.  

Now they’ve cashed in their retirement savings and are devoting full time to the project.

“We could turn away and pretend like we didn’t see what we saw, or we could do something about it,” she added. “If that means we have to live poor,  we’re OK with that, because we know we did something.”

They’re working now in studio space provided by the Mellwood Art Center in Louisville, where they did end up adopting a new dog, named Gigi, from a local shelter.

What drives the couple, though, are all the dogs who don’t get out alive — the thousands put down each day.

“The no-kill movement is making strides, but not fast enough,” said Mark who, on those days he doesn’t feel like painting, reminds himself of the bleak numbers, and the 5,500 reasons — every day — he must continue.

To learn more about An Act of Dog, and how to become a sponsor or benefactor, visit its Facebook page or the An Act of Dog website.

(Photos and video courtesy of An Act of Dog: At top, a collage of Mark’s paintings; Mark and Marina in their studio; some of the larger paintings, with Mark’s former dog, Santina, at left; and three shelter dogs dogs Breeze, Freckles and Sky)

Puppies in training to detect ovarian cancer

Two chocolate Labs and a springer spaniel are being trained to sniff out ovarian cancer at the University of Pennsylvania.

In a collaboration between Penn and the Monell Chemical Sciences Centers, Ohlin and McBain (above) and Thunder (left) will use their noses to detect the disease in humans.

Ovarian cancer kills more than 14,000 women every year and is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths in women in the nation.

The collaboration, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, takes aim at the silent killer with a combination of chemistry, nanotechnology — and dogs.

Canines have been detecting lung and breast cancer for years. With an $80,000 grant from the Kaleidoscope of Hope Foundation, the new project will assess their effectiveness in sniffing out ovarian cancer, and continue an investigation that has been underway in Sweden.

The Swedish professor behind that project, who was using his own dogs for the study, is retiring. But he’s lending his expertise to those involved in the Penn project.

“He’s been advising us along the way to we don’t repeat the same mistakes he made along the way,” said Dr. Cynthia Otto, director of the Working Dog Center and Associate Professor of Critical Care at Penn Vet.

While the disease is often difficult to diagnose, ovarian cancer’s victims have a survival rate of 90 percent. No effective screening protocol yet exists to detect cases in the early stages.

In the new program, scientists from Penn Medicine’s Division of Gynecologic Oncology will take tissue and blood samples from both healthy and ovarian cancer patients. The samples will be analyzed by chemists, scientists, computers and the puppies at the Working Dog Center, who will be exposed to healthy samples and cancer samples in vented containers they can’t access, but can smell.

The dogs began their training at 8-weeks of age.

“They’re all fabulous and they are very strong in olfaction,” Otto said.

(Photos: Philadelphia Inqurer)

95 for 95: More songs for the road

Since I decided nearly three months ago to get on the road again — that I was going mobile — I’ve reached a few conclusions: Life is a highway. Every day is a winding road. And, though I may not be a highway star, or king of the road, I have been runnin’ down a dream, and I think, just maybe, I can see paradise by the dashboard light.

Or is that a Waffle House?

We’ve discussed songs and the road before, and how they intertwine. Now NPR has come up with a road mix of its own — in celebration of Interstate 95 and the beginning of a $1.4 billion construction project that will fill in it’s missing link.

The nation’s most traveled Interstate, I-95 stretches nearly 2,000 miles from the top of Maine to the southern tip of Florida — but there’s a hole in it. It disappears for a few miles near the border of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, forcing travelers to divert onto other roads.

Now, the missing 12 miles is finally going to be built, prompting NPR’s Weekend Edition‘s to produce “I-95: The Road Most Traveled,” a series exploring the social, cultural, economic and environmental impact of the I-95 highway renovation project.

As part of that, Philadelphia’s WXPN — as part of putting together its 885 Ultimate Road Trip Songs Countdown — has put together a mix of 95 classic road songs in honor of the Interstate. The mix is available via the NPR Music iPhone app (just select “Streams” at the top of the “Rock/Pop/Folk” channel).

A few days from now, Ace and I — lacking both iPhone and app, but with our own collection of road music — will be hitting I-95, northbound, to head back for a visit to Baltimore, where we hope to rest up and contemplate the next leg of our journey, and the pros and cons of continuing it.

The cons include being weary of motel rooms, and short on funds. The pros include the people we’ve met and the places we’ve seen, and that, even if we do sometimes wake up not being sure what town we’re in, we get to spend virtually all of our time together.

Which is good, because, as you might know, we’ve got a thing that’s called radar love.

Brooklyn dog survives six-story fall from roof

oreoA one-year-old dog survived being thrown off the roof a six-story housing project in Brooklyn.

Though all her legs were broken and had to be repaired with plates and screws, she was expected to survive.

Fabian Henderson, 19, was charged with throwing the female dog off the roof of a building in the Red Hook Houses.

Several people called 911 to report a dog had gone off the roof and police found the black and white terrier mix on the ground six floors below, the New York Post reported.

The dog also suffered internal bruising and damage to her lungs. Investigators have nicknamed her Oreo for her black-and-white markings.

Henderson, who claimed the dog jumped off the roof, was charged with of animal cruelty and reckless endangerment.

Things are looking up for Hector

Dave and Debbie Adams, who opened their home to Hector — the homeless, toothless, but far from  hopeless American Eskimo dog we introduced you to last week — have filed an update on how he’s adjusting to his new long-term foster home.

From all indications, Hector is getting stronger, more emotionally secure and bonding well with his new family, including Jack, the family’s Jack Russell mix. Here’s what Dave says:

Hector continues to improve. We have seen a physical improvement as far as his back legs getting stronger. When we first brought him home there was difficulty getting up on the sofa. Since then we notice he is able to jump up on his own.

There is an emotional improvement as well. He has become more at ease with the environment as well with his want to be close. Last night for instance Debbie left the bedroom and closed the door behind her and I noticed that Hector waited at the door for her to return (he’s becoming a mama’s boy).

We purchased a new doggie pillow for him to lay on. Debbie and I laid on the floor and called him over to it and he laid on it and licked my face as if to say “Thanks”. This morning we left Jack and Hector at the house and went out for breakfast …  When we returned Jack was there to greet us like he always does by jumping up and down, but then for the first time Hector jumped on me standing on his hind legs as if to say “Hi Dad”.

So far this has been a great experience for us and we are appreciative for the opportunity to put love back into Hector’s life.

Dave