This week at the Helsinki airport two coronavirus sniffer dogs started to work. More dogs are trained to detect Covid. The dogs are trained to detect the virus by sniffing samples taken by swiping skin with a wipe. The test wipe is then dropped into a cup, a dog will sniff the sample and signal if there is a virus. Fast and simple.
The research and training of the dogs is done by researchers from the University of Helsinki’s veterinary faculty and dog enthusiast. The preliminary research results show that trained dogs might “even perform better than the current Covid-19 tests that are based on molecular techniques”. There are some more studies with similar results.
Training the dogs is not a simple task. The people who have trained the dogs for the Helsinki airport have worked for years to develop the method and conduct research on the topic. A real challenge is how to scale the training program? How to make it possible for more people around the world to train dogs for this purpose?
Good news! It is already happening. In 2019 researchers of the veterinary faculty joined forces with the people of the Aalto Design factory, including Shreyasi Kar, our awesome MA student from the Aalto Media Lab to tackle the challenge. Shereyasi also made her MA thesis on the topic.
A real challenge is how to scale the training program? How to make it possible for more people around the world to train dogs for this purpose?
What the team developed is a functional prototype called Scen Bot, a device to train dogs for smell related tasks such as drug detection, scent tracking, and medical detection. Scent Bot consists of three parts: a device called scentBot; the treatDispenser and a mobile app for remote control and tracking the training.
Dogs can use the Scen Bot independently. The Scen Bot device is left for a dog to play with, to learn and to get automatically treat when being successful with the game. For the human trainer the mobile app will tell about the progress of the training and to modify the program.
I am not sure how far they are today with product development but this e-learning solution for dogs could make a huge difference.
PS. No animals were harmed during the research.