ME and Ophelia

Monday, October 06, 2003

Idea of the week

Sometimes an intriguing gadget that captures the imagination can suddenly create a market out of nothing at all, writes Julie Earle-Levine.

Takara, a Japanese toy firm, has managed to do just that with a quirky electronic device called Bow-Lingual, which claims to translate dog barks into human language to enable their owners to understand what they mean.

More than 300,000 have already been sold in Japan and Takara now hopes to repeat its success in America, where dog owners think nothing of spending thousands of dollars buying their pets designer shoes and organic, dairy-free pet food. During an initial trial in New York, hundreds of Bow-Linguals were snapped up, despite the $120 (£72) price tag.

The gadget consists of a cordless microphone that attaches to the dog's collar, and a wireless receiver that shows the translations and other data on a handheld screen. Once the dog's breed or mix is keyed in, the device receives, analyses and translates its bark into human language, either Japanese or English. The barks are placed in six emotion categories - happy, sad, frustrated, angry, assertion and desire.

Takara insists the gadget is based on scientific principles developed by Matsumi Suzuki of the Japan Acoustic Laboratory and by animal behaviourists, but the gadget has sparked off a heated debate in Manhattan, with some owners unhappy about their pets' wisecracks and bad attitude.

If Fido barks in an excited manner, for example, the gadget may translate this as: "Careful who you mess with, I don't like you!" A frustrated bark could turn out to mean "I can't deal with this, let's get out of here!"

Takara says that, if all goes well, it plans to start selling Bow-Lingual in Britain next year. [Courtesy of The Sunday Times, October 5, 2003]
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Imagine this technology being developed further as tableside baby alerts. First time parents, hospitals, baby-minders, nannies would probably snap it up at a much higher price tag.

Animals hear and sense things that we humans don't. My cat Ophelia sleeps through loud noises but wakes up startled when she hears the TV or laptop being switched on. She would not tolerate microphone transmissions around her neck - it'd be torture.

I feel sorry for the 300,000+ dogs having to endure that contraption hanging like a millstone around their necks all day. It is hard to believe that all these people really need a gadget to know whether their dogs are happy, sad, frustrated, angry...

If Fido barks in an angry manner, the gadget may not translate this as: "I can't deal with this, it's driving me mad, get this thing off me!"
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Comment received from James by email Tue Oct 07:
Hi Ingrid,
Did you know that the Bow-Lingual invention got its publicity push at the Ig Nobel awards? I think it would be fun to add this to your post. You can read about it here. The Bow-Lingual is mentioned in the bottom half of the article.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 10/06/2003
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