Checking the Claim: This Device Would Allow Dogs to Talk Like Humans

No More Woof

EEG technology allows people to play music and control vehicles with their minds. But can it translate a dog’s thoughts into words? (Nordic Society of Invention and Discovery)

A team of oddball inventors claims they are developing a headset that translates a canine’s thoughts into words

By Tuan C. Nguyen

In a way, the intimate relationship between man and man’s best friend is  unjustly lopsided. For their part, dogs are able to understand us very well. In  fact, researchers believe a border collie named Chaser has demonstrated a  vocabulary of more than 1,000 words, along with the ability to comprehend  more complex language elements such as grammar and sentences. Meanwhile humans,  despite even the most, er, dogged scientific efforts, have yet to decode the  literal meaning behind a canine’s bark (if there is any).

But a Swedish design lab that calls itself the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery thinks that  animal behaviorists have been going about it the wrong way. What  its developers are proposing instead is the development of a device  that can infer what an animal is thinking or  feeling by analyzing, in real-time, changes in the brain. The  concept they’ve imagined, dubbed No  More Woof, would be sold as a lightweight headset lined with electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors, which record brain wave  activity.

When combined with a low-cost Raspberry Pi microcomputer, the inventors surmise  that the electrode-filled device, which rests atop a dog’s head,  could match a wide range of signals to distinct thought  patterns. A specialized software known as a brain-computer interface (BCI) would  then translate the data into phrases to communicate. The  phrases, played through a loudspeaker, may range  from “I’m tired” to “I’m curious what that  is.”

In December, the development team launched a crowdfunding campaign on in hopes of raising  enough money to at least further explore the feasibility of such an idea (the  BCI, for instance, is just an experiment at the moment). With a $65  donation, supporters of the project had an opportunity to  reserve beta versions of the gadget, programmed to distinguish  between two to three thought patterns, such as tiredness,  hunger and curiosity, and communicate them in English. Those who pledged  as  much as $600 will receive a higher-end model capable of  translating  more than four distinct thoughts and  suitable for a  number of different breeds, which the group concedes has proven  to be quite  difficult.

“The challenge is to make a device that fits different dogs and measures in  the right place,” says Per Cromwell,  the product’s creator. “If it  gets displaced it can lose the signal. We are struggling with these topics and  would rather describe the devices we are working on as as working prototypes  rather than mass produced products.”

While developers more than doubled their initial goal—raising $22,664—you may  not want to get your credit card out quite yet.

Since the Indiegogo launch, neuroimaging  experts have come out to debunk claims made on the  product’s website, saying the science doesn’t add up.

“What I saw in their video can’t work,” Bruce Luber, a Duke University  professor who specializes in brain stimulation and neurophysiology, tells Popular Science.

Luber points out, for instance, that since EEG is designed to  measure neural activity near the surface area of the brain, it won’t be able to  determine if an animal (or human) is feeling  hungry; that feeling originates in the hypothalamus, which is  located deep in the center of the brain. And while devices  are being developed to allow users to move  prosthetic  limbs, steer a car or even play music, reliably identifying specific emotions and  thoughts has thus far been beyond the scope of even the most  sophisticated technology…

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