Swansea researchers develop wearable to detect stress in guide dogs

Researchers at Swansea University are helping to develop a range of bespoke collar sensors that can detect stress in guide dogs.

They’re working with scientists based in Ireland as part of the €12 million, four-year Celtic Advanced Life Science Innovation Network (CALIN) project.  It’s aimed at boosting innovation, jobs and growth in both countries.

Dr Sofia Teixeira, from the Centre for NanoHealth at Swansea University, has teamed up with technologists at the Tyndall National Institute in Cork to explore ways health technologies developed for humans can be used for guide dogs.

“The diagnostic device we are working on makes use of a highly sensitive graphene-based Electrochemical Impedance Spectroscopy (EIS) sensor. EIS enables rapid analysis, is compatible with miniaturisation and can be manufactured at an industrial scale,” she said.

“A saliva sample is taken from the dog and placed on the EIS sensor, completing a circuit. A current is then run through this circuit and the resistance is measured.

“This value is compared to a bank of already defined biomarkers, which can identify if anything in the sample is a cause for concern. Multiple samples will be taken for comparison to ensure accuracy.”

Over the coming years, the scientists will create and roll out sensor systems that detect the motion, temperature, respiration and heart activity of guide dogs. They attach to the harness or collar.

The hardware will be assisted by artificial intelligence software, which will provide insight into the dog’s health to inform decisions around things like training approaches and breeding.

Dr Paul Galvin, head of ICT for health strategic programmes at Tyndall National Institute, said: “What we are trying to understand with these sensors is the link between physiological parameters and stress.

“Cortisol is a biomarker for measuring stress, so utilising Swansea’s techniques for measuring cortisol, we will be able to validate and optimise our wearable physiological sensor systems.

“It costs between €40,000 and €50,000 to train one guide dog.  These dogs are a safety device for their owners and understanding how the dogs react to stimuli is very important, determining whether a dog will be able to handle the stress of life as a guide dog or whether they would be more suitable as an assistant or companion dog instead.

“Ultimately, we are hoping the sensors will allow IGDB to enhance their training and development of guide dogs and offer better support for their clients.”

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons