Have you ever wished that your dog could use the phone? Well, now they can!
Developed by Dr. Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, a researcher at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and Zack, her 10-year-old Labrador, the DogPhone itself is comprised of a small ball equipped with a sensor and connected to a laptop. When a dog moves the ball, the “phone” initiates a video call to the dog’s owner – moving the ball also works to answer an incoming call if the dog is so inclined!
While there are a ton of new smart home gadgets designed to give humans more control over their environments and insight into what’s going on with their pets while they’re home alone, far less attention gets paid to giving the actual animals themselves a way that they can interact with technology. The DogPhone—which isn’t intended for commercial use or distribution (yet!)—was invented as a way to study the way dogs experience technology and to innovate around their ease of use.
In prototyping the device, Hirskyj-Douglas says in a YouTube video that she sought to improve and study the user experience for dogs, particularly given how many of them were placed in new homes during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown that saw everyone and their mother getting a pet.
“I’ve been building devices for my dog and many other dogs for quite a while now,” Hirskyj-Douglas says in the video. “I think a lot of these devices are really important to give dogs choices or options to do things for enrichment reasons.”
While Hirskyj-Douglas says it was “very exciting” to receive video calls from Zack initially, eventually, he burned her by not wanting to talk all the time—which inevitably led to her feeling anxious that something was wrong at home on the days when he wouldn’t call at a regularly scheduled time.
“It became a bit more anxious for me near the end because sometimes I wouldn’t get a video call or he wouldn’t ring me through the day, and I would be thinking, ‘Oh, he usually rings me at this time,’” she said.
What Hirskyj-Douglas’ research does not say is if dogs even understand what they’re doing when they place a video call? Do they even experience a high-level desire to “check-in” on their humans when they’re not around, or are they content enough to just hang out with us when we’re there in person? Can they learn how to use the DogPhone to order Pizza on your Grubhub account?
For now, the so-called “DogPhone” asks a lot more questions than it answers.