Sick or lost dogs cannot call for help, so a new biomonitor interprets their needs as SMS messages to owners. The TAIL collar-mounted device includes temperature and GPS sensors, which monitor health and activity. Having a dog in the family brings many pleasures. Yet the closeness also entails frustration and worry.
Like anyone, dogs become ill. They, however, cannot describe their symptoms. A veterinarian may eventually diagnose serious conditions, although at substantial cost. Meanwhile, dog owners often miss minor ailments.
One particular concern is obesity, which can shorten a dog’s life. More than half of household dogs are overweight, yet only seven percent of owners realise since the signs are often subtle. Furthermore, dogs – especially pups – frequently become lost.
A canine bio-monitor offers reassurance. The EU-funded TAIL consortium has developed the first suitable self-contained device. The system consists of a thumb-sized hardware component, attached to a dog’s collar or harness, plus an interactive app for mobile devices.
The hardware includes a sensor for measuring body temperature, and a GPS receiver. Using a SIM card and transmitter, the device sends the information to the mobile app. The software interprets the data, using algorithms the project team developed with assistance from vets and dog behaviourists.
‘Developing the algorithms and clear interpretations was the heart of TAIL,’ says project leader, Jakub Szufnarowski. The algorithms detect anomalies and deliver simple messages about a dog’s health status to the mobile device.
TAIL also monitors physical activity. If the dog has been too sedentary, the application sends the owner friendly reminders to get the dog moving. The response is calibrated to the dog’s age and breed: for example, super-energetic Border Collies need far more exercise than relatively inactive breeds such as bulldogs.
The system advises owners accordingly, even informing which dog breeds rest inside during cold weather. The inbuilt GPS capability further allows owners to locate their lost pals. During any 5-year period, about 14% of dogs become lost and about half never make it home.
Although the market already includes other products offering tracking or health-monitoring capability separately, the TAIL system is the first to combine such features.
TAIL furthermore offers reminders about vaccinations (most important being rabies, which causes 59 000 human deaths per year globally) and, for the future, will develop an ultrasonic pacifying technology. About 800 000 serious dog bites occur in the United States each year, costing around a billion dollars.
In England, dog bites have risen by 76% over the last 10 years. TAIL is currently working on a pacification technology that may help to reduce such incidents as well as a self-charging battery module.
The final product will weigh only 35 grams. ‘Figuring out how to attach the device to the dogs’ collar was a major hurdle,’ explains Szufnarowski. ‘Our solutions were a rubber strap that works for any type of collar, and a steel cage around the device, making it sturdier.’ With active dogs in mind, the device will also be water resistant.
Szufnarowski anticipates a trial release in the Polish test market during the first half of 2018. Soon after, the product will be available in Germany and the United Kingdom, then France and Sweden, and the rest of Europe within two to four years. The project has initially partnered with Deutsche Telekom for the SIM service, and will later involve numerous European operators.
TAIL already has a substantial following. The global dog-product market is worth about $14 billion annually, and increasing. The European innovation is poised to take a sizeable chunk of the market. Thanks to TAIL, Europe’s dogs will be healthier, and the people who live with them safer.
Image Credit: Enaie Maire Schlogel de Azambuja