Concept #2 : Dog Gamification + Smart Home

The idea in a nutshell: To install a series of levers, buttons, lights and sounds actuators around the house or apartment for dogs to be entertained while owners are not around. Ideally, the smart home would randomly generate new ways to call the dog’s attention and learn from what is effective or not.

Why would we want this? Let me use my own experience as an example : My dear dog “Chicharron” has destroyed about 15 books, 8 DVDs, a passport, a couple hats , a couch, countless toys and even a snake plant with his teeth. At first I thought he was just a bad dog, then I got the feeling that he was just hungry so I started feeding him much more. He still chewed on random things all the time (I get he is young and his teeth are growing). We gave him a massive amount of chewable toys, all colors and sized but nothing really changed. I’d like to believe he is just bored. Chewing things seem to be the way he copes with boredom because he never does it when we are around.

Doing some research I found a Swedish Dog games designer called Nina Ottosson, in her website she mentions the following:

 “All dogs need to use their head sometimes in order to feel good, and some dogs have a greater need than others. If they don’t get to channel their energy into an organized activity, they can sometimes create their own “fun”, which is not always appreciated by the owners, such as chewing on things, or just get hyperactive”.

Worth mentioning: Nina Ottosson has a full line of Dog Activity Games that look great. I’m ordering a couple today for Chicharron. However what I’m proposing is a little bit more on the crazy Emmet “Doc” Brown side from “Back to the Future” with electronics, lights and mechanical components. If you remember the opening scene of the first movie, there is a full contraption that feeds “Einsteing” (his dog). I like to imagine that in this alternate and fictional movie universe, the “Doc” would have also invented and developed a way to stimulate “Einstein’s” brain (pun intended).

First of all we need to think about the Dog Interface/Experience (DI/DX):

  • The levers and buttons needs to be rugged enough to withstand chewing.
  • Dog should be able to interact with its Paws, Tongue, Teeth or Snout.
  • Light actuators should be within the dog’s line of sight.
  • Reward dispensers should make it easy for the dog to retrieve its payoff (and communicate explicitly that a reward was dispensed).
  • Sensors should not only include levers and buttons but also microphones (to pick up dog sounds like whining, crying or barking) and cameras for computer vision to be able to recognize bad habits (like taking things from the top of the table or opening the Trash can).
  • The feedback shouldn’t only come from the light actuators but also from any other smart home device (like living room lights, colors, blinds, etc)

Plan of Action

We are going to design an hypothetical system that will give cues to the dog(s) to take an action. The dogs will have to be trained to respond to the cues via the input gadgets (rope pulls, cranks, buttons) for them to acquire a reward (could be a treat or a sound). The system will get feedback (how and when the dog reacted to the cues) via the Microphone, Computer Vision enabled camera and the Movement sensors. A “Dog Actions Classifier” will interpret the feedback inputs and recommend the next cue.

Design Notes

  • The system should NOT be connected to the internet and that is OK. This is not intended for dog owners to play remotely with their dogs… This is literally, the Smart Home playing with the dog and learning from it.
  • Maybe it is not explicitly depicted in the diagram but all the components should communicate wirelessly. This would avoid the problem of dogs chewing on the cables.
  • The only components that need to be dog-ruggedized are the input gadgets : the cord pull, crank buttons, etc
  • Also, not explicitly depicted in the diagram but there is a micro controller that orchestrates all the gadget in an asynchronous way. Every gadget should still work even if that controller is down.
  • The most basic Classifier should be pre-trained, however it would be fascinating to have it train against every dog’s particularities. Also, to randomly come up with new cue-action-reward combos to discover new ways to entertain the dog.
  • The dog will reinforce the system the system will reinforce the dog.

Further Improvements

+ Connect the system to the internet for owners to play remotely with its dog. Although I suspect owners will rapidly loose interest after doing so a couple of times. Hence the importance of having the smart home interact with the dog directly

+ Maybe implement something similar for cats? Do they care?

Top of mind conclusions

The chances of somebody investing more than a $100 in a toy or a system to entertain a dog are practically zero (I usually wouldn’t). Nevertheless, as I’m writing this post, Chicharron just destroyed today the living room rug that costs much more than a $100. Could the case be made that the ROI for such implementation is positive? How do you know what your dog is going to destroy in advance? Also, is this a more humane way to keep dogs from destroying things? (opposed to keep them outside or in a cage). Or, are we creating obsessive compulsive animals that require constant feedback? Are dogs even interested in an interactive experience?

I’ll put this concept (Dog Gamification) in consideration for a prototype build. I might be able to assemble a very primitive version of it with some Arduinos and Raspberry Pis and some cheap sensors that I find online. That will be part 2 : Stay tuned.

This idea follows the Zombie Home Manifest

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