Not So Far-Fetched: How Cats And Dogs Can Use Gadgets You Already Own | KUOW News and Information

Not So Far-Fetched: How Cats And Dogs Can Use Gadgets You Already Own

Apr 22, 2016
Originally published on April 22, 2016 3:03 pm

Lucy, a golden retriever from Connecticut, is a dog of the future. Imagine this: As she trots down a suburban street, a girl with a scooter can't help but stare. Attached to Lucy's collar is a leash, and attached to her leash is a small quadcopter drone. When the drone moves to the left, she looks up at it and follows along.

It's not that Lucy's owners are lazy, or that they've doled out their tasks to robotic underlings. It's more that Jeff Myers wanted to show it could be done. Myers lives in New York City, and he borrowed Lucy (his mom's dog) for the experiment. He used a Parrot AR 2 drone controlled by an app.

"[Lucy] was complacent," he says. "Maybe a mixture of fear and interest."

Though Myers calls his video a concept piece, he's not the only one to think about how to use technology with pets. Technology has changed the way we dream, the way we date and maybe even the way our brains work. It makes sense that it would change the way our pets live, too.

Alexandra Nelson, a reporter who lives in Auckland, New Zealand, introduced her cat, Lucky, to her sister's cat, Max, for the first time over Skype. Max lives in Melbourne, Australia.

"At first they just stared at each other, so it seemed they were curious, but that didn't last too long and Lucky quickly became disinterested and turned away," Nelson says.

"It definitely looked like they were staring at each other," she says, "so to some extent I think they knew they were looking at another cat, rather than just staring blankly into the computer screen."

When animals have trouble processing what's on a screen, it's because their brains and eyes are set up differently than ours. Cats and dogs process color differently than humans do, and they also process movement differently, so some may have difficulty understanding what's on a screen.

"Dogs perceive the world largely by smell. This makes any virtual presence confusing for them, since the way they recognize us is missing," Jennifer Golbeck, a computer scientist at the University of Maryland, told The Huffington Post.

Patricia Pons, a member of the FutureLab research team at the Polytechnic University of Valencia, studies the ways that computers can help animals live better lives.

"We aim to develop interactive games using technology, which can adapt to the animals' species and personality in order to make the playful activity more engaging and suitable," Pons told NPR in an email. "This could potentially help pets to avoid stress when they are left alone at home, as they could play with these systems by themselves."

Already, there are games designed specifically for dogs and cats; some pets have really taken to the gamer lifestyle.

In the years to come, we'll probably see gadgets designed specifically with pets' well-being in mind, like wearable sensors for service dogs or devices that translate an animal's noises into English. Last week a device was announced that lets your dog post on Facebook.

But pets are also adapting to technology without innovations made specially for them. The future is here, and it's pretty darned cute.

Naomi LaChance is a business news intern at NPR.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.