Strange but True: 'Fitbit' for Fido helps care for loved pets


Q: You may not be a dog-whisperer, but how is technology aiding in the care of your canine companion?

A: A "Fitbit for dogs" named Whistle is a round collar tag that uses an accelerometer to track "how much exercise a dog should get based on its breed, age and size and allows owners to track medication and log meals." All data are then sent to a smartphone app, says Ellen Lee in "IEEE Spectrum" magazine. For example, the owners of 3-month-old puppy Sara were warned that she had exceeded her target exercise by 30 minutes and had they acted immediately, they might have averted a messy cleanup from Sara tearing apart her pee pad and ripping up her bed.

In another case, Whistle indicated that a dog was unusually sluggish, whereupon a visit to the vet let the owner know that her dog had been bitten by a snake. Recently, Whistle Labs acquired cellular and GPS technology to track a dog's location on a map and to alert the owner via a text message or email of its whereabouts.

As for cats, the Lab has yet to come up with a suitable design. Concludes Lee, "Somehow it seems appropriate that felines may be the last resistors in our march toward an always connected, wearable world."

Q: Athletes, how ready are you to face your next sporting opponent? How might "Readiband" help give you a clue?

A: "This electronic wristband measures sleep quality and quantity, which can help predict a player's reaction time for the next day," says Emily Waltz in "The Quantified Olympian." An associated online tool helps coaches monitor athletes' sleep patterns and fatigue levels.

Readiband works this way: An accelerometer senses tiny movement of the wrist to tell whether the wearer is asleep or awake. To predict fatigue, the information is then sent through the SAFTE model (Sleep, Activity, Fatigue, Task and Effectiveness) developed by the U.S. Army and an "effectiveness score" rates the quality of the slumber, helping forecast reaction time.

Already, the Dallas Mavericks (basketball), Seattle Sounders (soccer) and Vancouver Canucks (ice hockey) are using Readiband.

Q: How might a blind person take a "look" at the dwarf planet Pluto?

A: Pranav Lal of New Delhi, India, a cybersecurity expert who was born blind, uses sonification technology called vOICe that "transmits an image from a camera to software that turns it into sound," says Sandrine Ceurstemont in "New Scientist" magazine. Lal frequently uses "vOICe" for photography, where he picks out the most pleasant-sounding composition like an "image orchestra," so to speak. Different visual features are converted into different characteristics of sound: "The position of an object is denoted by pitch — features higher up have a higher pitch — and brightness maps to loudness."

Adept at creating mental images based on the "soundscape" he hears, Lal was able "to see the first images of Pluto sent back from space recently. "I could make out mountains, but they were hazy," he says. "A patch on the right of the image was clearer as it was better lit."

What happens here is that visual parts of the brain can learn to substitute input from other senses. For example, after hearing the sonification of basic lines and shapes, a volunteer with his eyes covered could still read words just by listening to the corresponding sounds.

One day, the technology for color vision and night vision may follow and add to the picture.

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