These 'smart collars' and 'smart vests' help in training guide dogs

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Wednesday, October 9, 2019
Smart tech helps train service dogs
Smart tech helps train service dogs

RALEIGH, N.C. (WPVI) -- A collaboration between NC State, IBM, and Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit organization, is aimed at improving guide dog training.

Dogs-in-training are outfitted with "smart collars" and "smart vests," which upload data - ranging from heart rate to activity level - to the IBM cloud for analysis. Researchers are able to use that analysis to determine whether training needs to be altered for a guide dog, or if the dog is not a good fit to move forward with training.

"The algorithms are able to detect patterns that humans may not be able to, and in most cases wouldn't even know to look for," said David Roberts, an associate professor of computer science at NC State.

Using machine learning, the program produces more accurate results with more data. On average, it costs $50,000 to train a guide dog, meaning the technology can save tens of thousands of dollars in preventing poor results.

"In regular training process, there is a professional trainer observing it and trying to understand. Now we are trying to quantify it by collecting heart rate information and activity levels of the dog," said Alper Bozkurt, a professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at NC State.

A 2016 report from The National Federation of the Blind found 285,500 North Carolinians had a vision impairment.

"And the collar, actually gives for the first time, Guiding Eyes an objective set of data to work with, what's going on with the dog when they're out with a volunteer puppy raiser like (myself)," said Lorraine Trapani, a trainer with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and Executive Program Manager in Government and Regulatory Affairs for IBM.

Researchers plan on collecting data from hundreds of dogs during the next two years.