For years, people have tried understanding the communication abilities of animals, especially household pets. Some owners are convinced that a certain bark or meow means "I have to go to the bathroom," "I'm hungry," or "pet me" - but unless you're Dr. Doolittle, the actual words are outside your ability to hear (even though you can sometimes decipher the meaning).
An Israeli firm called Bio-Sense Technologies recently broke the animal communication barrier with its technology that interprets barking to see if a dog is responding to a threat instead of just making a lot of noise. See the news story: "From yap to growl, Israeli device dogs intruders."
According to the article, "The company—which says dogs have better night vision than humans and a vastly superior sense of smell and hearing—used computers to analyze 350 barks and found that dogs of all breeds and sizes barked the same alarm when they sensed a threat. If the dogs sense an intruder or attempted security breach, dozens of sensors around the facility pick up their 'alarm bark' and alert the human operators in the control room."
The dog bark-reader, aptly named Doguard, goes beyond just auditory signals. "By monitoring not just the dogs' barks, but also their physiological responses—like heart rates—the reader joins a trend for computer systems building on animal knowledge that humans also share."
However, the technology is not foolproof. One Israeli officer, who installed the system in several places to replace guards, claims that "dogs need two to three weeks to adapt—they must get to know their territory."
Will this technology catch on in prisons and other high security areas around the world? Will it eventually replace the human security guard entirely? I'm a dog owner, and I think that some dogs are incredibly smart, but my gut says that this technology should be a supplement to the human element rather than a replacement. The combination would certainly help eliminate any barking up the wrong tree.
Sonja Thompson started at TechRepublic in October 1999. She is a former Senior Editor at TechRepublic.