Speak, Fido!

October 16, 2020
ROB FELT

Imagine you’re out for a walk with your family. A strange dog comes up to you. It nudges you with its snout. It barks at you.

You’re confused. But there’s something you don’t know: This dog has special training. Maybe its owner has an allergy. And she has eaten something that has made her sick. So the dog runs off to find help. That’s why it came up to you.

But how will the dog tell you what is wrong? It’s not like dogs can talk.

Now imagine the dog is wearing a high-tech vest. The dog tugs at a rope with its teeth. A recording plays. It says, “My owner needs help.” You would understand what the dog is up to. You would know to follow it to its owner and call 911. This is the goal of the FIDO project. It is a research project at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Schubert demonstrates the bite sensor on a FIDO project vest.

ROB FELT

New Tricks

Dogs can be trained for many tasks. They can help us avoid foods that make us sick. They can let us know when our blood sugar is low.

“Technology can give dogs so much more power as they help their humans,” Melody Jackson told TIME for Kids. She is FIDO’s director.

FIDO director Melody Jackson poses with her dogs Sky and Schubert.

ROB FELT

FIDO researchers designed a vest. It has a tiny computer built in. It can call 911. It can play a recording. To make it work, a dog pulls a rope.

The vests are being tested. Service dogs might be wearing them soon. “This technology could be a huge game changer,” Jackson says.

Best Medicine

Dr. Susan Ryan takes a break with Wynn, a service dog in training.

COURTESY SUSAN RYAN

Wynn is a year-old Labrador. She’s training to be a service dog. Her handler is Susan Ryan. Ryan is a doctor in Colorado. Wynn is often at the hospital with Ryan. When the coronavirus pandemic hit, hospital workers started visiting Wynn. “We get anxious when we think about the future,” Ryan says. “Wynn helps us return to the present.”

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