Remote Control Dog Cyborg: It’s a Thing

Researchers have come up with a new way to remote control man's best friend, but will it do any good?

There’s a reason why this YouTube clip went viral. Fenton the dog chases a herd of deer to hilarious consequences (with strong language). Dog owners around the world can empathize with the sheer awkwardness of the situation.

 “to command your dog with a remote control, or even via your smart phone”

While we laugh at Fenton and the various re-makes and parodies of the clip, there are times when your dog just won’t listen to you despite your desperation, shouting, and all the training in the world. In these moments, wouldn’t it be great if they had a pause button? Well, dear reader, they may well do quite soon.

Scientists at Auburn University have published a paper in the International Journal of Modelling, Identification and Control that claims to have come up with a novel piece of technology that would empower you “to command your dog with a remote control, or even via your smart phone.” Heal, sit, and roll over at the touch of a button? We truly live in an age of electronic excess.

Experts hope this technology could be used to help communication between handler and rescue dog, but U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Kristopher Knight who has worked with dogs in the military for over 18 years warns that it’s no substitute for good old fashioned training. “If I’ve properly trained my dog then I should be confident that it will know how to go about its mission with or without this technology,” says Knight.

“If I’ve properly trained my dog then I should be confident” 

Believe it or not, the Auburn University scientists’ “system for autonomous canine guidance” isn’t an entirely new venture. The scientific community has something of a history in researching and developing ways to manipulate the animal kingdom to yield to a remote control. The authors of the study say success has previously been achieved by implanting electrodes in the brains of animals. The list of remotely controlled animals using this method includes sharks, rats, pigeons and even cockroaches. Researchers at Cornell University are currently working on developing flying insect cyborgs.

Before the good people at PETA voice their concerns, it’s worth noting that this new canine control contraption seems perfectly humane and doesn’t involve the surgical implantation or anything. It’s a sort of pooch pouch that straps onto the back of the dog and contains a control module, which produces vibrations and sound on command from the human. Think of it as if a tiny master was patting and whistling commands to the dog from atop its back. The backpack looks like a standard dog coat and also contains a microprocessor, wireless radio, and a GPS receiver.

If you think this could spell the end to spoiled rugs, bothersome barks, and even the early morning walk as you sit in bed and direct the dog through its route on your iPhone, as has been reported elsewhere, then you’re wrong. Knight says it would still require you to train the dog so it can understand what a buzz on the left or right of the harness actually means. During the trials for the device, in which dogs were remotely guided to various waypoints, success rates were as high as 97.7 percent and averaged at 86.6 percent.

Encouraged by the success of the control harness, the study’s authors have suggested that it could be used to help dog handlers in the military. Knight says that he would like to see a side by side comparison of traditionally trained military dogs and dogs trained with the remote control device before passing judgment as to whether it would actually help dog handlers in the military.

Man’s best friend is used to hunt down explosive roadside bombs in conflict areas such as Afghanistan and to locate victims in the rubble aftermath of natural disasters. Handlers rely on vocal commands to instruct their dogs on their life saving missions, but often these scenarios are filled with conflicting sounds that hamper the communication between the human and dog. This, the authors say, would help to limit such confusion.

The applications, if realized, would undeniably prove advantageous–but we may be forced to mourn the loss of comical Fenton-esque Internet sensations in the future.