The Dog Internet: Autonomy and Interspecies Design

Activity trackers, smartwatches and other wearable technologies have become ubiquitous, and there is a corresponding interest in designing similar systems for pets. For example, Whistle, FitBark, and TailTalk, are devices that attach to dogs’ bodies and record data using a range of sensors and radio transmitters, ostensibly to facilitate health and activity tracking by owners. However, arguably these developments reduce animals into just another data source, or “things” to be sensed, which raises issues of autonomy of the animal that is being subjected to technology that it does not understand. There appears to be significant tension in the design of such systems; narrative frequently flips between the wellbeing and welfare of the animal, and the entertainment and satisfaction of the owner. Devices that appeal most to the human will be bought and used, regardless of whether there is any scientific basis to the claims. To problematise this impending “Internet of Dogs”, this Research through Design project asks instead what an “Internet for Dogs” might look like. Through the design and construction of a series of prototypes for canine users, based on their needs and capabilities, the Dog Internet exposes some of the profound challenges presented by inter-species technology design.