Lecturer and assistant professor Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas designed an invention that lets your dog call you—DogPhone.
With lockdowns easing and people returning to work and school, they may find that they miss their best friends—their dogs. However, one woman has just the solution: DogPhone. Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas, a lecturer and assistant professor in Animal-Computer Interaction at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, has designed an invention that lets your dog call you. After realizing that all the products in the current pet tech market are designed around the owner rather than their pets, she set out to change that. Thus, she worked with her own 10-year-old black Labrador retriever, Zach, to figure out a way to build a video calling device centered around dogs, CNN reports.
"No one's really done this sort of stuff before," Hirskyj-Douglas said in an interview with the news outlet. "Where do we even begin making things from a dog viewpoint?" The assistant professor created and tested her device, publishing her findings in a research paper for the Association for Computer Machinery Digital Library. She said her innovation is particularly important at a time when many pets may be experiencing separation anxiety from their owners after spending numerous months with them during the pandemic.
Collaborating with researchers from her former workplace, Aalto University in Finland, Hirskyj-Douglas was able to successfully launch the DogPhone. The device is a ball with an in-built sensor hidden inside it. Whenever a pet plays with the ball, the sensor picks it up and triggers a video call from a computer. When she used the DogPhone with her own dog Zach, Hirskyj-Douglas was not completely sure if he was aware he was calling her each time he used the ball. The lecturer did not train him to use it, but she believes more dog-centric tech is needed on the market. She stated, "The way that we make devices for dogs currently is not really the same standard as we make for humans—we're treating them a bit like they don't really have any agency. The animals that we keep in our lives are a lot smarter and deserve a lot better technology than what we have for them."
Whether or not Zach was aware of how the DogPhone worked, he kept calling Hirskyj-Douglas. By the end of the experiment, he was triggering up to five video calls a day. Notably, nonetheless, when she tried to call him, he did not always answer—which he could do by moving the ball. "I went into it with a very much open mind," the lecturer shared. "Originally I kept thinking of that famous quote, 'He's just not that into you,' when I was ringing him and he was just not answering my calls." Indeed, she began to expect that Zach would call her at certain times of the day, and became anxious when he did not.
For now, Hirskyj-Douglas will be focusing on her day job. Despite her busy schedule, she will continue to explore dog-centric devices in her work and hopes to collaborate with organizations on implementing them. Of course, Zach will be involved too--though they do have their ups and downs like any other owner and dog. "My dog's a big sniffer, grass-eater, going around, this sort of thing," she said. "He's very independent, my dog. So I say we go on walks together, but usually he's on his separate walk from me."