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]