Snouts towards technology

Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, supports research into smart pet services

Is everything alright with Buddy? I wonder what Buddy gets up to during the day, when left alone at home. Is our darling Buddy satisfied, maybe even happy? These are the types of things wondered by modern families with dogs, both in Finland and abroad, as the relationship between human and pet has changed. Dogs have become Beloved Family Members, and people want to know their pets better, beyond just taking them out for a walk.

"Studies have shown that the emotional connection between a human and a dog may be just as deep as in interpersonal relationships. A domestic dog has similar cognitive skills and fears as a toddler," says Professor Outi Vainio, who has studied cognition in dogs.

A dog is unable to talk about its feelings, but technology can help us interpret our furry family member. There are already collars on the global market that measure the well-being of dogs, devices that let you play with a dog left at home remotely, car models that take the needs of dogs into account, and services ranging from Airbnb for dogs to a TV programme for dogs.

"However, gaps still remain in the technology. For example, there is still a great deal of work left to do in the functionality of the measurement technology and the reliability of interpretations. Other key factors in the field include the experiences of both the dog and its owner and making the information provided by technology interesting. In the future, it will not be enough to know whether a dog is moving about a great deal or very little, or whether its pulse is elevated. Rather, we will want to know why that is. Is the measurement data linked to the animal’s recovery from a surgery, or is the dog perhaps feeling lonely," outline Veikko Surakka, Professor of interactive technology, and Jukka Lekkala, Professor specialising in sensor technology and biomeasurements.

A 2-year research project focusing on these challenges is now being launched in cooperation between the University of Tampere, the Tampere University of Technology and the University of Helsinki. The aim of the Buddy & the Smiths 2.0: From Equipment to Interaction (in Finnish Turre & Toivoset 2.0: Varustelusta vuorovaikutukseen) project is to study and improve technology and build a Finnish business ecosystem around smart solutions offered to pet owners. The project turns snouts towards technology that will take the measurement of the well-being of dogs to a smarter level, support the interaction between human and dog and make the everyday life of families with dogs easier with the help of digital services.

The project was successful in the Challenge Finland competition organised by Tekes. The aim of the competition is to combine top-level Finnish research with the development activities of companies, thereby speeding up the discovery of new Finnish export products and services.

"We have gathered together a community of experts from a variety of scientific fields and companies in the industry, challenging the basic assumptions and opportunities related to the pet business," describes Professor Mikko Ruohonen.

"With the help of the entire network, we now also have the chance to develop and export the Finnish Pet Business 2.0 to the international market, worth billions, in accordance with the teachings of the platform economy," Ruohonen continues.

The multidisciplinary research will be conducted by four research groups from the University of Tampere, the Tampere University of Technology and the University of Helsinki. Alongside the research project, Vetcare Oy from Mäntsälä and Best Friend Group Oy from Kuopio will be advancing their own corporate projects.

The project’s implementation will also be supported by a dozen or so organisations in the Finnish pet industry, such as Smart Dog, Kaunila, Suomen Agilityliitto (the Finnish Agility Association), Eläinklinikka EHYT (King's Road Veterinary Clinic), Petsofi, FitDog Finland, Three Plus Group and Lymed.

For more information, please contact:
Professor Mikko Ruohonen, +358 (0)400 825 440,, responsible leader of the project, CIRCMI – Research on Information, Customer and Innovation Management, University of Tampere. Perspectives: The consumer’s voice and business potential

Professor Veikko Surakka, +358 (0)40 557 3265,, ESC – Research Group for Emotions, Sociality and Computing, University of Tampere. Perspectives: Interaction between human, animal and technology

Professor Jukka Lekkala, +358 (0)40 849 0931,, STB – Sensor Technology and Biomeasurements, Tampere University of Technology. Perspectives: Sensor technology and biomeasurements

Professor Outi Vainio, +358 (0)50 415 5251,, Animal Mind - Cog­nit­ive, emo­tional and phar­ma­co­lo­gical stud­ies of the an­imal mind. Perspectives: Cognition in dogs and well-being of dogs