The Chronicle-Herald
NovaScotia, Tuesday, February 6, 2007, p. B4

Web project goes to the dogs; No matter where he is, owner can play with, feed his pooches

WOLFVILLE - Andre Trudel loves his dogs - all eight of them.

So being able to virtually feed and play with them from anywhere in the world is important to him.

Mr. Trudel, a computer expert at Acadia University, has designed a program that allows him to play with, feed and talk to his dogs from any computer with Internet access.

"There's a lot of interesting work that can be done in terms of interacting with animals through a computer," Mr. Trudel said in a recent interview on campus.

He first saw a similar project involving computer and dog interfaces being done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and thought it would be a good opportunity to combine his love of dogs with his computer expertise.

"I went to the website and thought 'I can do better than that,' " said Mr. Trudel, who in his spare time runs a kennel from his home in Gaspereau.

So he enlisted the services of Danny Silver, another computer expert at Acadia who specializes in computer interfaces.

"I really became intrigued, not knowing where this would go," said Mr. Silver. "I thought it would be interesting to see what a dog is capable of doing with a computer system."

Also enlisted for the project was Fung Hu, a computer science master's student, who helped set up a special server on the Internet. She is also writing her master's thesis on the project, called Human Computer Dog Interface.

The three "cobbled" together some parts, including an automatic dog feeder, a ball-throwing device, stereo speakers and a computer video camera.

From a remote location, a computer operator can check in on the dog visually through the camera. Several commands are programmed into the computer, including come, sit and stay, along with the words of praise "good girl."

Mr. Trudel has been using his 10-year-old, highly trained English springer spaniel Twist for the project.

By pressing various commands on the remote computer, the ball thrower is activated and Twist runs off to chase the ball. She then returns it and drops it back into the throwing machine. Another button releases food for her as a reward.

The other commands can be made through the stereo speakers. One challenge of the project has been having good enough fidelity for the dog to recognize its owner's voice.

The three see the project as having some commercial potential and have applied for a research grant to improve the equipment and expand the project.

"The pet industry is a multibillion-dollar industry," said Mr. Trudel. With his device, a dog owner can sit in an Internet cafe in Paris and check in on his dog at a kennel.

It also has potential for use with disabled persons and seniors, said Mr. Silver.

They plan to get other students involved and use the project as a teaching model in their campus courses.( )

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