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Tag: technology

Sony working on reincarnating Aibo, this time as a smart home assistant

aiboAibo is coming back, and he hopes to take a bite out of Alexa.

Sony is reportedly re-forming the team behind its discontinued robot dog Aibo, and plans are for him to come back in a form that will compete with Alexa, the artificially intelligent household assistant produced by Amazon.

Aibo made a splash when he was introduced back in 1999, but after a few years consumer interested waned.

In large part that was because, aside from the novelty, he was less than cuddly and really couldn’t do much other than sit and bark.

Nikkei Asian Review reports that Sony is preparing to compete with Amazon, Google and Apple by producing a smart, speaking, more helpful version of the robot dog.

After a 12-year hiatus from robotics, the company announced last year it was turning its attention back to robots. Aibo’s return would be the first of several products brought to the market.

He will engage in all the dog-like behavior the old one did, but this time will be equipped with artificial intelligence, Internet connectivity, and he will speak the human language.

He’ll be able to control home appliances, play music and query the Internet at the command of his owner’s voice. Equipping him with AI will allow consumers to use him the same way they use any other digital assistant, all while being a little more personable, a little more like family, than just a futuristic looking speaker.

Whether the smarter, reincarnated version will be named Aibo isn’t certain yet, but the company says it is a possibility.

Japanese robot dog can tell you if your feet are stinky

It’s one thing — one seemingly very strange thing — to build a robot whose only job is to tell us if our feet stink.

But to make it in the form of a fluffy little white dog? That’s a pretty odious, and odorous, task to assign to the species, even a robot member of the species, and it’s degrading to robot dogs everywhere — many of which perform far more important duties, like sitting, and laying down, and barking and fetching a ball.

This new odor-detecting technology comes from Japan, which leads the world in producing robot dogs.

Its name is Hana-chan, and the six-inch long robot dog from Next Technology has a built-in odor detection sensor in its nose that assesses just how malodorous you feet may be, according to Japan Times.

JAPAN-TECHNOLOGY-ROBOT-OFFBEATIf your feet are slightly smelly, Hana-chan will bark. If they are truly pungent, Hana-chan will faint and fall over on its side.

But not before spraying a little air freshener on your toes.

Hana is the Japanese word for nose and Chan is a common girl’s nickname.

Next Technology plans to start selling the robot dog in early 2018 — at about $900 each.

Now, as absurd as Hana-chan might seem, the product makes more sense when you consider the cultural context.

Traditional Japanese remove their shoes before entering a home — both their own and those of others.

Traditional Japanese are also respectful, and not as likely as, say, an American friend — or wife — to blurt out, “Jesus! Your feet stink.”

Next Technology says it created the robot in response to a request from a man who suspected he had a foot odor issue.

“He told us his daughter had said his feet were smelly . . . But he didn’t want to know how bad the odor was because he would feel hurt,” a company representative said. “That’s why we developed this cute robot.”

With the robot dog, people can avoid the embarrassment of being told their feet stink, or perhaps the even greater embarrassment of not being told and offending everyone in the room.

(Photo: Next Technology)

Chinese lab produces what it says is the world’s first “superdog” clone

longlong4

Chinese scientists say they have produced a “superdog” clone — and that the technology will enable them to mass produce dogs that are extra strong and extra fast.

And, unless you are a fan of the doggy version of eugenics, you might find that extra scary.

The beagle, named Long Long, was born in May, becoming one of China’s first canine clones and, the scientist’s maintain, the world’s first genetically modified canine clone.

“This is a breakthrough, marking China as only the second country in the world to independently master dog-somatic clone technology, after South Korea,” said Lai Liangxue, a researcher of Guangzhou Institute of Biological Medicine and Health with the Chinese Academy of Science.

The beagle puppy was genetically engineered by deleting a gene called myostatin, giving him double the muscle mass of a normal beagle.

longlongHe was one of 27 puppies created at Sino Gene, a biotech company based in Beijing — all clones of a laboratory research dog named Apple, according to published reports.

The researchers created 65 embryos through cloning, and genetically modified all of them.

Only Long Long had his myostatin deleted.

By combining genetic editing and cloning, scientists say they can produce “superbreeds” that are stronger and faster.

“With this technology, by selecting a certain gene of the dog, we can breed an animal with more muscles, better sense of smell and stronger running ability, which is good for hunting and police applications,” Lai said.

He also suggested that the gene-editing technology could be commercialized and further applied to create dogs with diseases such as autism, Parkinson’s and diabetes, for use in medical research.

It’s just the latest chapter in dog cloning, which has a frightening history and, potentially, an even scarier future.

Efforts to clone dog began in the U.S., with early research at Texas A&M funded by backers who saw cloning people’s pets — often sick, dying or even dead — as a profitable business enterprise.

Canine cloning wasn’t achieved until a few years later at Seoul National University in South Korea when Snuppy, the world’s first canine clone, was born in 2005.

The service would be offered to pet owners by several businesses, only one of which remains, Sooam Bioengineering Research Institute, the laboratory of controversial South Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk.

longlong2Twelve years would pass before China became the second country to clone dogs — and clone them with a twist.

Lai says his team will be able to “batch produce” customized dogs through cloning and gene-editing, which in addition to possible military and law enforcement uses, would create an endless supply of dogs for use in laboratories by medical researchers.

The researcher has worked for years on genetically modifying dogs. By mastering cloning, and combining it with his gene-editing, he’s able to endlessly duplicate any successes he achieves.

As with Dolly the sheep and Snuppy the dog, Lai’s achievement is seen as ominous by some.

“It’s true that the more and more animals that are genetically engineered using these techniques brings us closer to the possibility of genetic engineering of humans,” David King, director of Human Genetics Alert, told the Express..

“That does set us on the road to eugenics,” King added. “I am very concerned with what I’m seeing.”

Me, too. Dog cloning raises some significant animal welfare concerns. Technology, especially when coupled with greed or ego, tends to run amok. Eugenics is a nightmarish pursuit, as is its canine version. Creating diseased dogs for medical research is just plain wrong.

On top of all that, this latest twist being touted by the Chinese researchers fails to recognize one simple fact:

Dogs are already super.

(Photos: Sino Gene)

Nissan unveils a car (in concept) for dogs

It’s not being manufactured yet, but, if it were, there would probably be people lining up for this ultra dog-friendly Nissan.

The Nissan X-Trail 4Dogs, or Rogue as it’s known in the U.S., features dog bed, no-spill water bowl, automatic treat dispenser, clip on harness hooks, a slide out ramp, a shower and dryer and a two-way cam, allowing the driver in the front and the dog in the back to watch each other.

woof in advertisingThose last parts might be a bit much. (Not all dog tech, in our view, is good tech). But for the most part, these are some great ideas.

It’s all just a concept at this stage, developed by Nissan’s European division, Motor Trend reports.

And concepts, while they might get great mileage, won’t get you to the store.

Only of the concept car’s pet-specific features is currently available for purchase as a Nissan accessory: the dog guard above the rear seats.

Nissan-X-Trail-4DogsWhat’s the point of showing us a concept when the car’s not available?

For one thing, it helps create buzz and demand. For another, it lets us think such companies are thinking about us, even if it their project is mostly on the drawing board still. It also allows a company to show us a dream version, so vestiges of that image remain in our heads if and when the real one comes out.

Hopefully, the real thing — if it hits the market — will have a price some of us can actually afford, and will include something more than a $1,000 dog bowl. We’d suggest losing the automatic treat dispenser, too, and the dog-to-pilot cam and communication system.

It’s good to be able to keep an eye on your dog without fiddling with the rear view mirror. But do we really need to have our voices broadcast to them, all the way to the back seat? Do we really need to see them constantly on a 7-inch dashboard display?

And to they really need to see us, on a 10-inch LED screen in the cargo area?

It’s a little Big Brothery.

Nissan says the cargo area is meant to accommodate up to two dogs, but it looks to me like two large dogs would have to be crammed in. It’s even a little tight for a large and a medium.

All the doggie components were designed to be easily removed to free up cargo space for other items when the dog is not traveling with the family. The pet-friendly setup doesn’t interfere with accessing the vehicle’s spare tire, Nissan says.

The built-in shower and ramp are brilliant, and all in all a vehicle like this — at a reasonable price — could give Subaru a run for its money when it comes to the dog-friendliest cars.

So thanks for the video of what could be, Nissan, but don’t tease us. Get to work and give us the real deal.

(Woof in Advertising is a recurring ohmidog! feature that looks at how dogs are used in marketing. You can find earlier posts in this archived collection.)

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?

Experimentation on live animals no longer part of med school training, but it’s not over

goodmedicineEarlier this year a significant milestone was reached (and trumpeted) in the campaign to end the use (and killing) of dogs in medical school training.

This summer, the last medical school in which students had to use a live animal as part of their training — most often a dog — ceased the practice.

“Since the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga ended its live animal laboratory in June, all medical schools in the United States and Canada have eliminated the use of animals from their curricula,” the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine reported.

Those of us who sometimes read just the headlines, or read too quickly, might assume that meant dogs are no longer being used and sacrificed to advance human medicine.

That is not quite the case.

The achievement — and it’s not one to be diminished — pertains only to basic medical school, not to advanced training, not to medical research and not quite yet to battlefield training.

Shortly after the article appeared in the committee’s journal, the committee was calling on Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey to stop using dogs for emergency medicine training, and put up three billboards as part of the campaign.

Two of them pictured a dog staring down from the billboard, with the plea “Don’t kill man’s best friend for medical testing.”

The hospital, after defending the practice, later announced it would abandon it.

“Having reviewed current widespread practices and replacements for animal use, Morristown Medical Center has determined that the use of animals is not essential for training of emergency medicine physicians. As such, Morristown Medical Center will begin using either simulators or cadavers for this specialized, annual training,” a hospital spokesperson said.

Physicians Committee president Neal Barnard admits there is more to be done, but said ending the use of live animals in basic medical school training was a major achievement — one that was greeted with relief by those medical students opposed to the practice of unnecessarily sacrificing a live dog.

“We worked hard to stop these labs for two reasons: First, because of the obvious cruelty to the animals,” Barnard said. “And second, when medical students are trained like this, they come to believe that killing animals is somehow essential to medicine and science. That had to stop.”

The achievement is the cover story in the latest issue of Good Medicine, the Physicians Committee’s quarterly member magazine. But peruse the same issue and you can see that — for those of us who believe that sacrificing dogs and other animals to further human medicine is not OK — there’s still a long way to go.

The stories on the pages after the article recount efforts to stop practices that are continuing — such as live animals still being used to train emergency room doctors at the University of North Carolina and the University of South Carolina and Vanderbilt University, and in the Pentagon’s military trauma training.

All the same training could be done with simulators, the committee says.

That’s the point the committee has been making for years, and other groups, like American Anti-Vivisection Society and HSUS, for even longer.

Why it took institutes of higher learning so long to learn this is baffling — given some of the advances in technology, like this for example:

In 1985, 87 percent of medical schools used dogs and other animals to teach physiology, pharmacology, and surgical skills. Students were instructed to inject the animals with various drugs and monitor their responses or to practice surgical procedures. After the training, the animals were killed.

“That meant that we were to experiment on and kill a perfectly healthy dog,” Barnard said. “At the time, it was a ritual at most medical schools. Although it was a course requirement, I refused to participate. And I also made a vow that I was going to stop it, not just at my medical school, but at every medical school.”

As of May 2015, just two medical schools continued to use live animals: Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., and the University of Tennessee College of Medicine in Chattanooga. The Physicians Committee negotiated with both schools to end animal use this year.

The committee continues to work on extending the changes to include postgraduate residency training, trauma training, pediatric training and anesthesiology residency programs.

Since 2009, 22 pediatrics residencies have ended animal use, leaving only one U.S. program and one Canadian program using animals, among 215 programs. And of 125 surveyed anesthesiology residencies, only one uses animals, the committee says.

Among emergency medicine residencies, the Physicians Committee has determined that 122 of 138 surveyed programs do not use animals.

The Physicians Committee has also worked to reduce the use of live animals in military trauma training animal use, and has campaigned for the Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training (BEST) Practices Act, which would phase out the practice over three years.

“The Physicians Committee’s successes have saved animals and improved medical training,” said Barnard.”“But animals are still used in more advanced training, and there is an enormous amount of animal use in basic research. We are continuing to work in those areas and are steadily winning those battles.”

Garmin takes heat for dog-zapping device

Garmin, a company that makes devices that tell us how to get from here to there, has unveiled its latest gadget aimed at “teaching” your dog good behavior — by shocking him when he misbehaves.

The Delta Smart is a small, smartphone-compatible gadget that fits over a dog’s collar, enabling an owner, through an app, to keep track of their dog’s activity levels, and how much barking they are doing while we’re away.

It’s not the first Garmin product for dogs, and not the first to include a shock feature — but it is the first to spark such widespread protest and an online petition asking the company to remove the feature.

The product promises to “reduce or eliminate unwanted behaviors” and make your dog a “more enjoyable member of the family.”

It gives dogs warnings by beeping, vibrating or by applying what the company likes to call “static” or “stimulation” — which is a nice way of saying a jolt of electricity.

deltasmartThere are 10 levels at which a dog can be zapped, either by an owner who is present, or remotely.

As the petition points out, it’s not the right way to train a dog:

“For example, a woman wants her dog Bowser to learn to not jump on the couch. Bowser trots into the family room, jumps up on the couch, and climbs into her daughter’s lap — at which point the electric shock hits him. She has now put her child in serious danger.

“Bowser will not associate the act of jumping up on the couch with the pain; he will associate her child with the pain and could very well become aggressive toward her.”

Like all the makers of shock collars, Garmin says the jolt does not hurt the dog.

“What is missing from this argument is the fact that aversive methods only work if they scare and/or hurt the dog. If the zap doesn’t bother the dog, then the dog will not learn. Electric shock collars do hurt and scare dogs. If they didn’t, no one would use them,” says the author of the petition, dog trainer and freelance writer Tracy Krulik.

barklimiter

Garmin’s Bark Limiter

We haven’t seen the CEO of the company try one out (but then again maybe he or she hasn’t misbehaved). To the company’s credit the new device has put some cushioning over the two metal probes that, in earlier versions, stuck into the dog’s neck.

The Delta Smart is basically a combination of a FitBit-like device and the company’s “Bark Limiter,” which has been on the market for a while.

In the ad above, various dogs are shown, each labeled for the kind of bad behavior they engaged in — barking too much at the mailman, shredding the blinds, stealing food off the kitchen counter, knocking over the trash can, chewing up the slippers.

The “dog activity trainer and remote monitor” can correct all those problems — even when you’re not home, the ad says.

It can monitor barking and activity levels while you’re away, and it comes with tags that can be placed on items and in areas you don’t want the dog near that activate warning tones when the dog approaches.

In other words, it is a control freak’s dream — and it’s only $150.

After the video was posted on Facebook, it had nearly 2,800 comments, most of them condemning the product as cruel, and the wrong way to train a dog, according to the Washington Post

On YouTube, the company has disabled public comments on the video — and if you try to leave one, you receive an electrical shock. (OK, we made that last part up.)

You’ve got to wonder, though, technology being what it is, if the day will come when we get shocked for making wrong turns or for not taking enough steps during the day, for failing to do our sit ups or eat our vegetables — and if someday, by a family vote, we can equip a bratty nephew or an annoying uncle with such a device.

For his own good, of course, and just to make him a “more enjoyable member of the family.”