One of the trickiest areas for parents nowadays is deciding when it’s the right time to put one of those mind-controlling devices we call a cell phone into their kid’s hands. Is 10 years old too young? Probably, but chances are their ‘cool’ friend has one already and if everyone else is doing it, what’s the worst that could happen, right? But if that wasn’t enough, the conundrum seems as though it might be about to extend beyond your two-legged biological spawn to include your four-legged, adopted canine children too!
The fittingly named DogPhone is the brainchild of University of Glasgow researcher Dr Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, and the technology is being used to pose a number of fascinating questions. Truth be told, DogPhone isn’t really a ‘phone’ per se, more like a play toy that acts as a speed dial button. The ball-shaped toy is linked to a laptop and is fitted with a sensor known as an ‘accelerometer’. When shaken by the dog, the accelerometer automatically initiates a video call request to the owners phone which will correspond to the laptop screen, allowing the dog the ability to call its owner at the lift of a paw. The reverse is also possible, meaning the owner can initiate the call for the dog to answer by shaking the ball.
Now, the big question here that I’m sure immediately pops into mind; does the dog actually understand the correlation between moving the ball and the video call appearing on the laptop? While that might be one that is difficult to definitively answer, Hirskyj-Douglas does view the DogPhone as an important part of an ongoing aim to allow our canine friends an increased level of autonomy and “give dogs choices or options to do things for enrichment reasons.” She believes that demonstrating the success of her prototype provides further evidence that dogs and other pets “can be active users of technology” and that the onus is on us to “reshape our thinking about how we see the future of dog technology.”
The DogPhone was created as part of ongoing research and thus there are currently no plans to make the product commercially available. Personally, I can’t see myself sprinting to the pet store for a DogPhone anyway. I’ve got enough people trying to get hold of me during the day without having to worry about my dog giving me a bell to ‘chat’ whenever he gets bored (just go park up on the couch and rewatch Lassie or something, buddy!).