In contrast to other dogs, my dogs are not very interested in watching TV. However, with the development of new technologies this might change in the future.
According to Ernst Otto Ropstad, an associate professor at the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science, with the development of newer TV’s with a higher resolution and more frames per second, dogs might be able to actually perceive TV as film instead of a set of flickering images.
Where we as humans need about 16 to 20 frames per second to perceive images as moving film, according to this article, dogs need about 70 frames per second. Still, dogs perceive the content in a different way than humans, because dogs see different colours. They perceive colours with only two cones (retina receptors) where humans have three. In his book, The Truth About Dogs, Steven Budiansky shows the image below, visualising how dogs perceive colours based on a research by Neitz, Geist, and Jacobs. The left size represents the image how humans would observe it and the right side shows the perception of dogs. Due to this difference in visual capabilities, dogs also generally see less detail than humans.
According to Ropstad, not all dogs can see equally well or show as much interest in watching TV as others. There might be a difference in dog breeds and/or an individual difference that has not been researched yet.
The activity of TV watching dogs has already been recognized by Dog TV channel startups that create content specifically for dogs. Besides some ear movements, my dogs were not too enthusiastic about the videos shown for example on the website of DOGTV, but perhaps a better frame rate, bigger screens, and less lazy dogs might give more interesting results.
This video on the CNN website shows how the website visitors of a Californian animal shelter can remotely interact with kittens through the internet. The application allows its users to remotely move objects in the kittens’ shelter and real-time video is provided so that the human being can see how the kittens respond to their actions. What is great about this project is that Best Friend Animal Society reported that the cat adoptions HAVE MORE THAN DOUBLED after setting up this technology.
Another, slightly older research that focused on remote human-animal interaction includes the Poultry Internet – Mixed Reality Lab project carried out in Singapore. This study proposes and tests a cybernetics system that uses mobile and internet technology to allow human-animal interaction including both visualization and tactile sensation of real objects. The chicken in this video is wearing a hap-tic jacket, and the human is able to interact with the animal by touching a pet-doll object containing sensors, which are transferred to the hap-tic jacket in the form of vibrations. In other words: if the human touches the pet-doll object, the animal feels vibrations through the jacket. Interesting to me in this case is that the tested chickens in a preference experiments chose the room in which the vibrations were activated in 73% of the cases over a room without the activated jacket.
Next to these two examples, there are other technological artefacts that allow for remote human-animal interaction, such as dog GPS tracking products, webcam streams for a variety of wildlife, or the Pig Chase project also referred to in another post on this blog.
The most remarkable thing to me in this case is that all the examples mentioned above allow for human-animal interaction that is initially activated, stimulated, and operated solely by the human being. This results in a type of one-way communication in which the human-being is in control and decides when and how the interaction takes place. However, the results of both projects in the videos above (higher adoption rate and positive preference studies) seem promising for both the human being and the animal.
(Image by Eva Touloupidou)
Virtual reality and simulations created for animals could help scientists in studying animal behaviour using new research methods. Even though researchers can never be sure on how animals perceive the world, the environment, and therefore also the simulation of it, a virtual environment provides a certain amount of control and the possibility to exclude (potentially) influential variables.
An example of how virtual reality helps in animal behaviour research is recently published in the Science journal. At Princeton University, researchers have developed a digital application projected into a fish tank that simulates prey for the bluegill sunfish.
In this so called “game” the red dots (representing prey) moved in different ways and it was found that they were less likely attacked by the bluegill sunfish if they moved in group formation. This experiment provided the researchers with more control over the parameters and the coding enabled random formation and movement of the dots. New plans include the development of a 3D environment.
Other examples of digital simulations for studying animal behaviour include cockroaches moving in simulated forests, male moths tempted by virtual female olfactory cues, mice navigating in a virtual maze, and zebrafish chasing virtual objects.
The use of virtual reality and digital simulations for animal behaviour research brings up two main questions for me:
– How do these animals perceive their environment and is this somehow comparable with their perception of reality?
– And is there any reason for the connection of this experience for the animal with ‘play’ or (video) ‘games’ as exemplified in this BBC message or questioned in this article?
I think we should be very careful in connecting concepts such as ‘reality’ or ‘play’ to these experiments, since drawing conclusions based on superficial anthropomorphic statements, such as fish playing video games, could prevent us from actually acquiring a closer understanding of the animal.
Over the last few months several mobile/tablet applications intended for animal use have caught, not only mine, but a lot of people’s attention indicated by the amount of Youtube views and other buzz created by the videos mentioned in this post:
This Ipad game for cats created by Hiccup is one of the first applications intended for non-human use that got the attention of a large audience. In this very simple game the cat can chase either a digital representation of a mouse or a laser light. By tapping the object with their paws (or other body parts) the cat receives points. So far all the cats and kittens interacting with this application in my presence showed at least an interest in the moving object on the screen, most of them also started tapping the screen, and especially kittens got quite hooked in the chase after a while.
While this game, called Ant Smasher, is actually designed for human beings, the over 6,2 million viewers of this video could see how this bearded dragon interacted with the game. Other videos confirm that certain reptiles have an interest in screen interaction through this application or similar ones.
Next to these examples, there are apps functioning as tools for humans, such as dog whistles, GPS tracking, or training apps, that solely focus on human needs and preferences, without the animal being aware of the (digital) interaction. Although these tools might come in handy for pet owners, they do not provide (human-)animal interaction or stimulate interaction through play and are therefore not part of the research I am focusing on.
The mobile applications shown in this post are commercially successful examples of how apps could facilitate ‘something’ for non-human species. However it does not provide us with a better understanding of the animal or its physical and mental needs. A lot of questions remain: is the animal actually playing? If yes, how is this form of play stimulated? How does the animal recognize represented digital objects? What does this interaction mean to the animal? Is the animal enjoying the interaction? What is actual enjoyment for an animal? Why does the animal play? How could human beings take part in the interaction? etc.
I am convinced further research towards digitally mediated (human-)animal interaction can help us in finding answers.
One of the first projects I came across during my graduation research is the TOUCH project: ‘Bringing new Technology to Orangutans for Understanding and Communicating cross-species for greater Harmony‘. This project, carried through by School of Design of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University by Dr. Hanna Wirman, researches the possibilities for facilitating in cross-species interaction and enrichment for orangutans through digital games.
The focus of this project is centered around both human and orangutan and the potential for interaction between these two species. The researchers are aiming for the development of digital games in which humans might be defeated by orangutans through for example visual or short term memory games.
The blog that evolved around the TOUCH project, LUDUS ANIMALIS provides insights and updates on the research as well as an interesting collection of sources on animals, play and a few other animal computer interaction projects.
After 10 weeks of full-time thinking, reading, and writing, I handed in the graduation documents for my Master in Media Innovation at the NHTV Breda (the Netherlands). Allthough the timeframe was relatively short, it was without a doubt the best and most interesting personal project I worked on during my study. I was able to extensively improve my capabilities as a student and researcher and it provided me with the encouragement and hopefully the opportunity to continue my research in the area of digitally mediated animal interaction.
The main part of this project includes the research thesis: Design Methodologies for Embodied Play in Canine Digital Interaction
This thesis proposes a theoretical framework based on embodied play, a phenomenological approach, and the avoidance of superficial forms of anthropomorphism. Furthermore it provides a critical review of existing literature in the area of animal computer interaction.
I created this blog to provide you, the (hopefully) interested reader, with more insights on the research project I’m working on in the area of technologically mediated animal interaction. More information about me, Michelle Westerlaken, as well as more information about the research topic that captured my interest can be found in the menu on top of this page.
On this blog I’d like to share existing projects, theories, and any other relevant or inspiring information and thereby create a collection of interesting material that is, according to me, worth sharing.
My purpose is to continue research in the area of digitally mediated animal interaction. If you have any advice, contacts, or opportunities that could be interesting for me, please contact me via email or follow me on Twitter (@colombinary).