GREENSBORO, N.C. — Greensboro native and graduate student Sean Mealin is using his passion for computers to create technology that could transform the way service dogs are trained.
The inspiration comes from his personal experience. Mealin was born with Leber Congenital Amaurosis (LCA) and had less than five percent of the 20-20 vision he had as a child. The disease became worse over time.
“I went from having some sight to light perception to now I have no sight,” he said.
Mealin relies on a guide dog and is using his computer science background to create software that will allow dogs and humans to interact more efficiently.
“How do you know your dog is stressed out when they are specifically trained not to show that in public? So using computers and bio sensors on the dog you can hopefully build a model that allows you to get an idea of what your dog is feeling before it becomes dangerous,” Mealin said.
Thanks to funding from the National Science Foundation, Mealin and other team members at North Carolina State University are researching computer assisted dog training. Team members have developed a unique vest that uses sensors and other equipment to gather data on the dog’s emotion and how it reacts to an environment.
“We’re looking at posture, training dogs to display postures like sitting, eating off the floor, standing on two legs,” said David Roberts, assistant professor of Computer Science at North Carolina State University.
The data is then sent to a computer for analysis.
“We’re looking at how quickly and accurately computers can determine the posture of the dog and how quickly and accurately they can communicate back to the dog whether those postures were desirable,” Roberts said.
It will be some time before any technology is on the market, but for Mealin, a start is significant.
“We are just scratching the surface with dogs and animals and I’d love to see this continue and I’d love to see how far we can take it.”
The research team also includes veterinarians. Members only rely on positive reinforcement and insist no dogs are harmed during their research.
They are also working with search and rescue dogs to see how the technology could work in those situations.