Friday, June 4, 2010

Using iPads to bridge communication gap with dolphins

Dolphin communicating with humans via iPad. via

By Chris Foresman

Research scientist Jack Kassewitz has found that the iPad's touch-based interface is so intuitive that even some nonhuman species can use it. In this case, that species happens to be dolphins. Kassewitz is using iPads with custom-developed software to help facilitate two-way communication between humans and dolphins.

Kassewitz has worked for years studying the behavior and communication patterns of dolphins. Numerous studies on dolphin language show signs of advanced intelligence, and it is believed that the high-frequency sounds dolphins make underwater are capable of communicating information that is holographic in nature. Since humans don't communicate natively with holograms, Kassewitz is currently working on a project to build a symbolic language that dolphins and humans can use to communicate with one another.

Kassewitz searched for nearly two years to find a touchscreen device that dolphins could reliably activate with their rostrum (or beak), while still being powerful enough to record or play back the high frequency sounds associated with dolphin language and durable enough to work in underwater environments. He had originally settled on the Panasonic Toughbook, but recently began evaluating the iPad as an alternative. …

The first step in building that system of communication is a very simple game wherein a dolphin named Merlin is shown an object, such as a ball or a rubber duck. (Kassewitz told us that dolphins respond well to the color yellow.) Then Merlin has to point to an image of the object on the iPad's screen, selecting it with his rostrum.

"Games are a relatively simple way to build an understanding between two animals—humans included," Kassewitz told Ars. "Games require agreements to work, and agreements require some high-level thinking." Ultimately, Kassewitz will build a library of symbols that dolphins can recognize that form the basis of "a complete language interface between humans and dolphins." …

Using iPads to bridge communication gap with dolphins