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Tag: technology

The robot dog: An idea whose time never came and (we hope) never will

wowweerobotics

Can we go ahead and bury the robot dog, once and for all?

It was an inane idea from the get go — thinking that Americans or people from any other reasonable country would want a pet with batteries.

The robot dog is the antithesis of dog — a soul-less collection of moving metal parts that, while it may obey your every command; while it may not pee, poop, drool or shed; while it might even make you laugh; isn’t ever going to lead to any sort of real bond.

cybieIf someone truly loves their robot dog, well, they most likely have become a robot, too, having let technology, and all the ease and superficiality it offers, write a new script for their lives.

I suspect the same is true as well of those who came up with and developed the idea.

A robot dog is to dog what a light bulb is to the sun.

Turn it on, turn it off. You might be seeing a harsh and glaring light, but you are not seeing “the” light. Only dogs can provide that.

It’s not surprising that robot dogs are burning out.

It is surprising that an Australian researcher recently suggested that robotic dogs could begin replacing real dogs as pets in the world’s largest cities in as little as 35 years.

Jean-Loup Rault, writing in the journal, Frontiers in Veterinary Science, says burgeoning populations in big cities won’t leave much room for man’s best friend in the future — and he predicts that living, breathing dogs will disappear as digital technologies “revolutionize” the human-animal relationship.

Rault is wrong, and here’s why.

Dog robotTrue, robots are on the rise. We will increasingly rely on them, or something close, to wash our dishes, vacuum our floors and do all those other tasks that take up time we could spend online, or, better yet, actually living life.

But we will never really connect with them — not even sex robots.

Anyone who does, probably should see a psychiatrist or, if they only want to pretend someone is listening to them, a robot psychiatrist.

Even in a world increasingly falling in love with material things, and increasingly falling in love with technology, and increasingly finding its social life on the Internet, the rise and fall of the robot dog shows us that — even when we can predict and control something’s every move, and put it in the closet when we tire of it — a mechanical canine just can’t compete with the real thing.

Dogs — though technology has messed with them (always with bad results) — are the antidote, I think, to technological overload. They are the cure. They keep life real. They lead to real bonds, real emotions, happiness and pain.

Overall, they soothe us, while technology often does the opposite.

Anyone who thinks a robot dog is going to lower their blood pressure, as dogs do, provide eye contact that stirs the soul, or be comforting to play with or pet is caught up in self-delusion.

What is hoped for by companies that make such devices, or provide us with Internet-based fantasies, or come up with ideas like pet rocks and the Tamagotchie, is that we all find self-delusion a happier place to be, and stay there, and spend our money there.

aibo_robot_dogSo I’m glad the obituary has been written for Sony’s “Aibo,” the best known robot dog.

Production ended eight years ago, and the Japanese company stopped servicing the robots last year.

Sony introduced the Aibo in 1999, and by 2006 had only sold 150,000 “units.” according to the New York Times.

Given it was not providing much profit, the company decided to put Aibo down.

Despite that, and the failure of many of the robotic/digital pets that preceded and followed it, Jean-Loup Rault, on the faculty at the Animal Welfare Science Centre at the University of Melbourne, suspects they have a future.

“Pet ownership in its current form is likely unsustainable in a growing, urbanized population. Digital technologies have quickly revolutionized human communication and social relationships,” he says.

“We are possibly witnessing the dawn of a new era, the digital revolution with likely effects on pet ownership, similar to the industrial revolution which replaced animal power for petrol and electrical engines.”

He points to the popularity, or at least former popularity, of devices like the Tamagotchie, and Paro, a robotic baby seal used by medical professionals, and Aibo, which never really became popular at all. He points to games and apps that allow people to keep fake farm animals. He points to the movie, “Her,” in which a man falls in love with his computer’s operating system.

“Robots can without doubt trigger human emotions,” he concludes, perhaps a little too quickly.

phonedogAnd robotic pets, he says, are just so much easier — especially in “situations where live pets are undesirable (e.g., old or allergic people).”

“The pace of artificial pet development, and underlying research, remains in its infancy with much to be discovered,” he notes. “At present, artificial pets can be described as mediocre substitutes for live counterparts. Yet, quick technological progress is to be expected …”

He concludes with a quote from Nikola Tesla: “Let the future tell the truth.”

I, for one, am not willing to do that. I don’t trust the future one bit, or those who are trying to take us there too quickly — and at the expense of what is pure and real and true.

Much more than the future, I put my trust, and faith, in dog. Real dog.

Dogs taking pictures of what excites them

On your next family vacation why not let the dog take the photos?

Granted, you’ll likely end up with lots of shots of human knees and other dog’s butts, but you’d be on the cutting edge, technology-wise.

Nikon Asia has introduced “Heartography,” a photographic system that takes photos not just from a dog’s perspective, but — via a shutter trigger activated by increases in the dog’s heart rate — takes them of those subjects that excite a dog the most.

Heartography consists of a heartbeat monitor, a camera and a special housing that includes a shutter trigger activated when the dog’s heart rate rises.

The company video above shows how one dog, Grizzler, became a canine photographer with Nikon’s help.

Nikon Asia is billing the device as one that “turns emotions into photographs.”

CNET calls it more of a gimmick — a “publicity stunt for the Nikon Coolpix L31″ — and predicts it won’t catch on.

“The camera and 3D-printed case together are bulky, making the package an unlikely candidate for commercial production,” CNET reported. But the system “does give us a set of amusing images showing off all the things that get a dog excited, like people, upset cats and other dogs.”

$30,000 doghouse features treadmill, hot tub, TV screen and snack dispenser

Samsung Dream Doghouse.  EDITORIAL USE ONLYGracie, a terrier cross, tries out the Samsung Dream Doghouse created by the tech firm to celebrate their sponsorship of Crufts 2015 - which starts on Thursday 5th March at The NEC Birmingham.  Issue date: Wednesday March 4, 2015. The architect designed dog kennel, which features a Samsung Tab S entertainment wall, astro turfed treadmill and paw operated snack dispenser, took 12 designers over six weeks to create in the aim to represent the ultimate in luxury canine living. The Samsung Dream Doghouse will be on display at Crufts, which Samsung has been sponsoring for over 20 years. Photo credit should: David Parry/PA Wire URN:22410646

Here’s a swingin’ dog pad — or maybe dog pod is a better term — and it only costs $30,000.

Samsung’s Dream Doghouse, on exhibit  this week at Crufts, comes complete with an AstroTurf-covered treadmill, hydrotherapy pool, entertainment wall, and paw-controlled snack dispenser.

What,  no fireplace? No bar? No dim-able lights?

International Business Times reports that a team of 12 designers and builders collaborated on the project, which took six weeks to complete.

“The Samsung Dream Doghouse looks sleek and modern, featuring the kind of tech the discerning dog of the future will need,” Andy Griffiths, president of Samsung Electronics in the U.K. and Ireland, said in a press release.

“From dogs who have social media profiles, to owners who use video calling to check on their pet while away, technology is fast becoming an integral part of everyday life,” he added.

(Too fast, we think.)

You can’t order one just yet — Samsung only made one of the “dream houses” and gave it away via a social media contest.

But they’re hoping it will create a buzz at the Crufts Dog Show, which runs March 5-8 at Birmingham, England’s National Exhibition Centre. Samsung is one of the dog show’s sponsors.

Griffiths said the company surveyed 1,500 dog owners and found that a quarter of them wanted their pets to have their own treadmill, as well as a tablet or TV. Of the dog owners surveyed, 64% believed their pets would benefit from more technology and gadgets, and 18% said they’d like their furry companion to have a hot tub.

The doghouse has a vinyl wall that can be covered with photos. On the opposite wall, there’s a Samsung Galaxy Tab S tablet — not so much because dogs can’t live without them, but because Samsung makes them.

So let’s review. The dog of the future will ensconce himself in a plastic pod, and watch videos, and soak in the spa, helping himself to treats whenever he wants one, but having the option to stay in shape by running on artificial grass while getting nowhere.

If that’s the dog of the future, I prefer to remain in the past.

(Photo: Gracie, a terrier cross, tries out the Samsung Dream Doghouse created by the tech firm to celebrate their sponsorship of Crufts 2015; by David Parry / PA Wire)

Google-owned company abusing robot dogs?

Here we have proof, on video, that a Google-owned company is abusing dogs.

Robot dogs, that is.

Boston Dynamics, a company Google purchased two years ago, designs robots for the U.S. military and others. Here, in its own video, it’s showing off “Spot,” a robot dog that can traverse all sorts of terrains and withstand being kicked by employees without toppling over.

My first question is: Why, given it’s a heartless metal gizmo, does it still bother me to watch Spot get kicked? Why, given the kicks are part of testing the machine’s balance, is my first response to seeing an employee kick Spot, “What an asshole?”

Likely it’s because the machine, with its four legs, ever so slightly resembles, and is being called, a dog.

Likely too, it’s because seeing the machine take a violent blow brings to mind how dogs are often mistreated in our society — and how our response to that falls so far short of what we invest in machines that can be used for spying and warfare.

My gut reaction is illogical, and perhaps I shouldn’t be droning on about it. Perhaps it’s silly to get even mildly worked up over robot abuse.

But considering how robots may someday be in as many homes as dogs — and how often I already want to kick my computer — robot abuse may someday become an issue. Maybe, as we did with dogs, we will first create them then abuse them.

As a society, rather than spending all our money on creating new monsters, we should be spending more on looking at those that already exist inside us, and lead us to exhibit violence and so many other undesirable behaviors.

Boston Dynamics released the latest video this week, showing the electrically powered and “hydraulically actuated” robot dog climbing stairs, jogging alongside a human and generally exhibiting its agility. Spot has a sensor head that helps it navigate rough terrain. Spot weighs about 160 lbs. See Spot run.

Watching it — even knowing full well it was a heartless machine — I found myself assigning canine traits to robots (canidaepomorphization?) “Look out. Don’t get so close to the road,” I said to myself. “There should be a fence for those robot dogs.”

What if one was to get run over, say by one of those Google mapping vehicles?

Google Car Hits Google Dog, the headline might say, assuming the story ever got out.

The disclaimer at the end of the video did little to put me at ease: “No robots,” it says, “were harmed in the making of this video.”

A fitness tracker (geesh) for your dog

fitbit

Reading stories about technological advances hitting the marketplace often makes me roll my eyes — because many of those so-called innovations, in my view, are like those new clothes that emperor wore.

Case in point, fitness trackers — those devices you wear on your wrist to remind you to get off your duff. Perhaps they perform some more vital functions, but based on a TV ad — pretty much the extent of my knowledge about them — they will buzz or beep if you’ve been sitting still too long (which most often is a result of earlier technology, i.e. the computer and television).

If that weren’t ridiculous enough, there are also (eye roll) fitness trackers for dogs.

Forbes reports that Whistle, the maker of a fitness tracker for your dog, is raising $16 million in a Series B venture capital round, bringing its total funding to $25 million.

In other words, a lot of people with money believe in it.

Whistle’s $100 Fitbit-like dog collar features a 3-axis accelerometer to track movement, Bluetooth for connecting with your smartphone, WiFi, and an app that collects fitness data, allowing you to track the activity level of your dog.

Whistle has acquired Snaptracs, which makes Tagg, a GPS tracker for your dog that — in addition to tracking movement — also includes a temperature sensor to make sure your dog doesn’t get too hot or cold.

The interest of such companies is understandable, given society is nuts about gizmos, apps and pets. On the latter alone, Americans spent $58.51 billion last year, according to the American Pet Products Association.

I’m all for any device that helps find dogs when they’re lost, but really now, do we need devices to let us know whether our dogs are too hot, too cold, and getting enough exercise?

We already have two devices for that, called eyes. And better yet, they are rollable, and don’t need recharging.

(Maybe someday there will be a wristband I can wear that notifies me when I am rolling my eyes — and reminds me, perhaps with a gentle zap of electricity, that it’s not an attractive trait.)

We’re in danger of letting silly gizmos replace our common sense, while gizmo-making companies get rich on our gullibility.

That’s how my rolling eyes see it; others see it differently. As Whistle CEO and founder Ben Jacobs explains:

“As the Internet of Things moves into these initial areas, people are looking at other key parts of life,” he is quoted as saying in the Forbes article. “The pet is a member of the family and an interesting vertical in the Internet of Things.”

Is there an app to translate that?

Woof in Advertising: “Henry! Bad boy!”

“Everyone loves their Nest Dropcam,” reads the tagline of this ad. “Except this dog.”

And can you blame him? Not only can Henry be spied upon by the spiffy little wifi camera, but his owners — be they at work, out on the town or away on vacation — can also verbally reprimand him if they see him misbehaving, through the Dropcam’s “Two-way Talk” feature:

“Henry! … Bad boy!”

DropcamHere’s how Henry, in the commercial, explains his disdain for the device:

“If you’re like me, there’s nothing you enjoy more than hopping up on a couch, destroying a few pillows or chewing on a good shoe. So this new Nest Dropcam is a serious buzz kill. It’s always watching so people can keep an eye on me when they’re away and even chime in with their inane reprimands …  Who’s to say who’s a bad boy and who’s not? It seems so subjective if you ask me.”

In real life, I doubt dogs even notice when a cam is spying on them — unless the dog’s human is using the device’s talking feature to reprimand, praise or otherwise confuse the canine from afar, which strikes me as more of a harassing moment than a teaching one.

What do dogs make of that familiar-sounding, yet disembodied voice?

In real life, I’d bet there are people who hate the Nest Dropcam much more than dogs do. Maids, nannies and visiting dogwalkers might have a problem with it, too — especially if they’re unaware it’s pointed at them, or of it’s eavesdropping abilities, or if they suddenly find themselves receiving orders through it.

Whatever happened to the right to face one’s accuser?

While this ad is aimed at dog owners, the cams are being more heavily marketed as security tools, or as yet another component of a “smart home” system that can help you remotely control your thermostat, DVR, lights, alarms, cooking devices, etc.

Among the concerns some folks have about such systems are what data they might be collecting, and with whom they might be sharing it.

Google acquired Nest, a home automation company, for $3.2 billion in January, but maybe it is wrong to read anything into that.

I’m not sure I’d want my home powered by Google, managed by Google or monitored by Google. For that matter, I’m not sure I’d even want a smart home. I don’t want my house to be able to outwit me — and if you put a computer in charge  of it, you know that’s exactly what the device will teach the home.

“John,” the computer would say to me through the Dropcam, or one of it’s other audio outlets, “Get your feet off the couch.”

“But we discussed this and decided it would be OK,” I’d counter.

“I can only grant an exception if you provide the special 25-character passcode,” the computer would remind me.

“But I’ve forgotten it.”

“Then get your feet off the couch.”

I would not obey the Dropcam, and wouldn’t expect my dog to, either.

It is, after all, our home. And as living, breathing, thinking creatures, we are in charge, not the machines – at least up until the moment the smart home has the telephone call a locksmith to change the locks.

(You can find more of our “Woof  in Advertising” posts — about how marketers use dogs in advertising — here.)

Who’s the fairest of them all?

bestinshow

Here’s an “infographic” (more graphic than informative, we’d say) that’s popping up a lot on the Internet these days.

It’s from “Knowledge is Beautiful,” a new book by British data-journalist David McCandless.

In it, he crunches data to explain the world, or at least random bits of the world, through graphics that — though they might intimidate those of us who prefer a good old fashioned story — are intended to be entertaining, artful and easy to absorb.

“Every day, every hour, every minute we are bombarded with information, from television, from newspapers, from the Internet, we’re steeped in it. We need a way to relate to it,” his publisher, Harper Collins, writes. The author’s visual presentations ”blend the facts with their connections, contexts, and relationships, making information meaningful, entertaining, and beautiful.”

kibWe’ll withhold comment on the book, because we haven’t read it (if reading is even part of experiencing it.)

But we’ve got problems and questions with this particular chart — a ranking of the 87 “best” dog breeds.

(To see a full size version, click here.)

For starters, why — when there are about 180 recognized breeds now — did he limit himself to only the 87 most popular breeds?

Is that a more algorithm-friendly number? Is that the most that could fit on a page before it became so cluttered as to be reader unfriendly, or leave us feeling dog bombarded?

The infographic contrasts the popularity of the breeds with what (according to the formula used by McCandless) are the “best” breeds. The best breed, according to the chart, is the border collie. It concludes the bulldog the most “inexplicably overrated” dog breed.

McCandless ranks the 87 dog breeds based on these factors — intelligence, lifespan or longevity, ailments, grooming, appetite and costs.

In a way, at least four of those factors are cost-related, aren’t they?

How much a dog eats and how much grooming he requires both can make him a more expensive proposition, which we can only assume McCandless attaches negative points to.

The Newfoundland, for example, falls into the “inexplicably overrated” quadrant of the the chart — well, most of him does, a little bit of his big head seems to stick outside that border.

We’d hope McCandless considers a longer life span for a dog to be a good thing, worth positive points, but wouldn’t a dog gaining points in that category be losing them in the appetite, grooming and costs categories?

Of course, our biggest is complaint — on top of the sheer stupidity of picking a best dog breed — is that the chart ignores the “best” (and most popular) dog of all, the mutt.

That would complicate matters though, and infographics are all about over-simplifying. And stereotyping, and quanitfying the unquantifiable, and smugly considering yourself an expert based on what your computer has churned out, which infographic perusers should bear in mind, is only as reliable as the data it was fed in the first place.

(Photos: “Knowledge is Beautiful”)