IBM Watson has tackled everything from cancer to cyber security, with Big Blue’s cognitive system now putting its smart thinking to puppies – specifically guide dogs for the blind.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is now using Watson cloud services to optimise the costly process of training puppies to be service dogs. Currently, the non-profit organisation spends $50,000 to train each dog over two years, with just 37% of puppies they breed actually going on to become guide dogs.
IBM, however, hopes to boost these numbers using Watson Natural Language Classifier, Personality Insights and other services. Using these Watson services, Guiding Eyes analyzed genetic, health and behavior data spanning from birth through training for 1,200 dogs.
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The analysis predicted with 100% accuracy which dogs would be successful, determining which volunteer “puppy raiser+dog” teams would be successful based on socialisation, environments raised in and skills of the puppy raiser.
“This opens countless opportunities for Guiding Eyes, aided by Watson, to unravel the complexities of nature versus nurture,” said Jane Russenberger, Director of Genetics and Breeding at Guiding Eyes.
“We are now planning an in-depth project to understand which environmental factors have the most influence in helping pups develop to their fullest potential. Embracing this innovation, we plan to apply Watson insights to improve the breeding, raising and training of dogs.”
The stakes to increase guide dogs has never been higher, with someone becoming blind every seven minutes in the US alone. This number is only set to increase with the baby boomer generation facing age-related vision loss.
Responding to the increasing demand, IBM and Guiding Eyes are set to continue to work together to expand the scope of factors that Watson cloud services take into account.
One such factor is dog stress, one of the most difficult traits to measure and among the biggest predictors of a dog’s ability to graduate from the Guiding Eyes training program.
IBM and Guiding Eyes will work with researchers at North Carolina State University to tackle this specific challenge, with researchers already working on wearable devices equipped with sensors to measure behavior and heart rate level of puppies.
These devices provide objective measures of how puppies vary in their emotional response to potentially stressful situations, creating a Watson “Internet of Things for puppies” that can enable more effective breeding, raising and training.
“Since Guiding Eyes was founded in 1954, we’ve graduated over 7,000 guide dog teams,” said Thomas Panek, CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
“By partnering with IBM and applying Watson’s analysis to our process of breeding and training dogs, we can be even more successful in matching guide dogs with people who have vision loss. This means more individuals can achieve greater independence by being paired with an exceptional dog – and it is core to our mission at Guiding Eyes.”