As if dogs couldn’t get any cooler, they’re currently learning how to navigate augmented reality. The U.S. Army is in the testing stages of AR goggles for their working dogs, in a two-fold effort to both improve communication and increase safety.
Using technology as a means to have remote communication and control over a military working dog isn’t expressly new. While much of their training and what these dogs do in the field requires their handler to be in close proximity (using either verbal commands, hand signals, or lasers), this can pose safety and security issues in situations where the mission would be better served if the dog and handler were able to be separate, or at the very least, be more discreet. Cameras mounted on the dogs’ back and walkie-talkies have been used in the past. Still, recurring problems continue to be: issues with visual reliability, as well as confusion, and inevitable miscommunication, between handler and animal.
By using AR technology, handlers will be able to provide virtual visual cues in order to guide dogs more accurately and more stealthily than previous technological attempts.
“Augmented reality works differently for dogs than for humans,” said Dr. Stephen Lee, an ARO senior scientist working in development.
“AR will be used to provide dogs with commands and cues; it’s not for the dog to interact with it like a human does. This new technology offers us a critical tool to better communicate with military working dogs.”
The current prototypes are using goggles called RexSpecs, which are already being worn by dogs in the field as a protective measure. One of the most important aspects of developing new tech is building off of the importance and necessity of visual cues. Lasers play a big part in communicating with the dogs, but in certain situations may compromise safety and give away locations.
Dr. A.J. Peper, one of the developers of the new goggles, has figured out a way to create a virtual laser within the AR world, eliminating that safety risk, while using a cue that the dog already understands. Peper has his own dog, a rottweiler named Mater, helping him out during the testing phase.
“His ability to generalize from other training to working through the AR goggles has been incredible,” Peper said. While optimistic and impressed with the findings so far, Peper knows this won’t be an overnight sensation, explaining that “we still have a way to go from a basic science and development perspective before it will be ready for the wear and tear our military dogs will place on the units.”
Since being approved to move into its second stage of testing and development, one of the main focuses now is converting the goggles to a wireless prototype. Currently wired and bulkier than the ideal end product, developers are working to build a wireless, more production-ready model. Researchers hope they will be able to get to this point in just two years, and Peper’s dog Mater will probably be in good company soon, with a natural next step being more testing of the prototypes on military working dogs.
The advancements made with this AR technology has Peper thinking about the future as well, and the potential for these dogs to one day use more comprehensive virtual reality, in the way you may traditionally think of it. While he cites probable obstacles like simplifying the amount of gear the dog has to wear, improving general tech like cameras and microphones, and tailoring VR to align with a dogs vision and visual abilities, it’s not something he’s ruled out entirely. It not only shows the ingenuity of scientists and engineers, but also the incredible intelligence, ability and loyalty these dogs possess.