Co.Design

A Mind-Reading Dog Translator That Just Might Work

Science fiction? Absurdity? The No More Woof is neither. (But, okay, maybe it's still a little silly.)

Today on Indiegogo, you can preorder a device called the No More Woof for $65. It promises to read your dog’s mind and speak out what he/she is thinking.

At first glance, it’s the epitome of everything wrong with crowdfunding platforms: It’s vaporware, a concept that has no hope of becoming a reality. And so far, the press has met it with skepticism. But after talking to the Swedish creatives behind the device at Studio Total, I, like most of you, will kick myself for not thinking of it first.

"We haven't invented anything," admits project director Tomas Mazetti. "We just combined things that have already existed."

Mazetti isn’t exaggerating. The project started as a bit of a joke between him and his brother, when Tomas suggested an Epoc (an off the shelf EEG) could be used to read the mind of their mother’s dog. Then Mazetti ordered one. His studio began trying the Epoc and other EEGs on dogs. And as you might expect, they could discern very basic mental states, just as these EEGs can do in a human.

“It’s not that complicated,” Mazetti says. “If a dog is really calm, sleepy, or upset, that is extremely easy to see.”

Hook that EEG up with two other off the shelf components, a cheap Raspberry Pi processor and a portable speaker, and suddenly, you have the extremely basic, $65 No More Woof being offered on Indiegogo today (which makes you wonder if, at that price, the device is selling for a significant loss).

But while core emotions were simple enough to prove the concept, the project's complexity grew quickly. Now, the studio would like to track far more nuanced thoughts. Their Indiegogo page teases that they could build an algorithm that can learn your dog’s thoughts over time and speak in short sentences like, “I’m hungry, but I don’t like this!” And that’s where a small army of fine print shows up on the page, explaining that you’re only supporting research, not a finished, promised product.

That said, like any good designer, Mazetti is already considering other simple interventions that could be created from the simple and easy-to-read core emotional base. For instance, a complementary system might be designed where a hungry dog walking up to a cupboard might have that cupboard open for him automatically to access a treat. And as dogs are very trainable, it’s also completely conceivable that a dog could be taught to use the No More Woof as a basic remote control.

“Like the dog thinks, then something happens--so the dog could potentially steer things with its mind,” Mazetti explains.

“Like a toy?” I ask.

“Or a car,” Mazetti responds.

Support it here.

[Hat tip: Engadget]

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10 Comments

  • LincolnX

    This is a ripoff.

    I'll point out the inherent implausibility of this idea, which was apparently inspired by repeated viewings of "Up". It's predicated on there being decodable language or emotional signals in the EEG of dogs - such signals are unproven. Since dogs do not speak as we do, their brain areas for language are most likely very limited, and you can forget something like generating speech. I doubt that this effort will produce a result that is better than visual observation of a dog's behavior, which is more enjoyable, highly informative and costs nothing. More likely, the "algorithm" will generate pat phrases that will be like listening to Siri on weed.

    Ask yourself this question - if we cannot currently decode human speech using dense array EEGs from human brain areas, in which we can completely control the input and output (words heard and spoken), and which we understand much better, how likely is it that useful information will be extracted from a dog's EEG from a tiny number of sensors? Anyone investing in this will be buying the world's most expensive chew toy with a predicted survival time of 20 seconds.

    I have a better chance of developing technology to allow me to lick my own nutsack. Watch this space for my Kickstarter...

  • nzyd

    Considering the fact that the EPOC runs at around $250 each, I don't see how they could be doing this for real..

  • Dawn Ross

    I'd like to see a video of it in use. Do you have one yet? I think if my dogs wore one, the device would say, "Why are you making me wear this thing?" ;)

  • Ragincajun

    They say REPEATEDLY that it is just funding the research, maybe you idiots should watch and read before making dumb posts...

  • Dawn Ross

    :'( That's not very nice Ragincajun. There's no need to be mean. I did see it was a work in progress. But I assumed since they had the head gear developed and have already recognized certain brain patterns that they've already begun putting it to the test. It's a perfectly logical assumption.