Jottings: Seeing-eye dogs trained to drive cars
Cambridge, Massachusetts — The Massachusetts Institute of Technology revealed today a program that has been under wraps for the last thirteen years. Under the supervision of Dr. Thomas Randa, an MIT lab has taught dogs to drive a car. The idea was inspired by Dr. Randa's daughter. She works with a nonprofit group in Boston that trains seeing-eye-dogs for the blind. It started as a joke, but with the development of artificial intelligence and neural interfaces that allow paraplegics to walk via direct mental stimulation of the nerves of the legs, the idea generated more interest. Since seeing-eye-dogs can be trained to protect the seeing-impaired, the question arose, could training be extended to help a blind person drive a car. In the test stage, the original intent was to determine if the mental language of the dog could be figured out.
Dr. Randa's previous work in direct brain control of machines gave him the idea he might be able to train dogs by reading and rewarding the necessary brain waves. The Labrador Retriever breed became the ideal test subject. The dogs seemed to relish the attention. They were fitted with a cap that can detect brain waves. It took five years to develop the proper cap and interpret the brain waves. Once they were able to interpret the "language" of the dog, Randa's team came up with the right stimulation and rewards to allow training using only brain waves.
During the next four years, they demonstrated the ability to train a dog to manipulate a steering, braking and acceleration interface designed by his team. It took another two years to train a dog to drive a car in a virtual reality set up. Given the successful results, the team developed a learning protocol for a small miniature car that the dog could drive in a secret parking lot. In these tests, they were able to train Labrador Retrievers to navigate an obstacle course successfully. What was unique about the interface was the ability to guide the dog using GPS navigation. Utilizing GPS required a larger test area not on public streets. They negotiated a highly confidential agreement with Consumer Reports to use their test tracks for more sophisticated testing. Consumer Reports scientists assisted by setting up blind-test tracks and collecting data.
The tests were successful. Consumer Reports noted that the results are superior to current automated vehicles on the market. Dr. Randa and his team have established a new company to further develop their hardware and software systems to train dogs for the general market. Given the love people have for their dogs, Dr. Randa believes there will be a large market for their dog-driven automobiles. And yes, he believes that blind people will be able to be driven by their seeing-eye companions giving both the person and the dog much more freedom.
What's next? Teaching dogs to talk?
(Faye Canoes = Fake News)
Cecil Denney, the real author of this April Fools piece, is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center's Jottings group.
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