for National Geographic News
The dog may be man's best friend, but who is the dog's best friend?
A new invention called SNiF (Social Networking in Fur) may provide the answer. The digital dog collar allows dog owners to record the activity of their canines and to monitor when and where their "pals" are walking.
"It's a tiny computer and communication device built into a dog collar," said Noah Fields, a graduate student at the Physical Language Workshop at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge.
Fields, who created SNiF with three fellow students, describes it as "mood rings meets instant messaging, but for your dog." The technology, he says, will also give dog owners a chance to "petwork," or network through their pets.
The students created the device as part of an MIT Media Lab class in which they were asked to come up with user-friendly computer tools.
"Most of us have had dogs while we were growing up, and I have had many dogs in my life," Fields said. "When we were working on the project, though, we were all students, and none of us were living with dogs."
The collar, now in prototype, has a variety of sensors that record the dog's interactions with other dogs equipped with the technology. Also, an owner can single out "friends" and "foes" by pushing buttons on the leash during a dog encounter.
When a dog's friends are out on walks, the owner will be notified by "collar tones," a sequence of colored lights that show up on the dog's collar or on a home base station.
"Part of the appeal of the SNiF collar is its unobtrusiveness," Fields said. "There are no buttons or dials. The device collects data about your dog's activities and then wirelessly updates your pet's secure Web page." (SNiF's online component is not yet available.)
Online, owners should be able to check logs of their dogs' walking history and which other dogs their pets have spent the most time with.
"The Web site will keep track of your dog's friends for you," Fields said. "This lets you learn more about other pets and pet owners in your neighborhood."
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