WASHINGTON – Dogs working under rigorous and extreme conditions on the U.S.-Mexico border and elsewhere could have their vital signs monitored by a new vest that is undergoing lab testing by the Department of Homeland Security.
The new vest will use sensors to provide real-time health metrics such as heart rate, temperature and breathing to reduce the high mortality risk of canine agents to environmental factors. Those challenges include extremely high or low temperatures, dangerous terrain, and injuries in the line of duty, DHS officials said in interviews.
“This was viewed as an initiative to bring in nontraditional performers to help with some of the desired requirements, to make the job of the (dog) handlers more efficient,” Don Roberts, Detection Canine Program Manager, told TMN in an interview.
Roberts said there was no immediate cause or spike in canine injuries or deaths that triggered the project.
The project is led by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, and is part of its Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP).
In February, DHS award $199,540 to HaloLights LLC, an Orlando, Fla., firm, to develop and begin prototype testing of canine wearable technology.
Roberts said prototypes will be tested through spring with three to five dogs at various veterinary centers, to measure results garnered through the sensors on the vest with traditional medical monitoring and determine if they are comparable.
“We are at the second phase of this where we are looking at the validation of the sensor system,” Roberts said.
“If everything goes well, at the end of May, we will go forward to the next phase and take some of the (vests) into the field,” he said.
According to previous DHS testimony, Customs and Border Protection has more than 1,400 K-9 units in service throughout the United States. The DHS officials interviews did not provide more precise numbers nor numbers as to how many dogs die while on duty, and DHS did not respond to information requests.
The SVIP is designed to be a streamlined bidding process, to post an idea and an open call for proposals and then see how the innovation community responds, Roberts said.
This open call for technology is intended to determine if the wearable devices humans use could be adapted for canine use, according to the DHS solicitation. Dogs create some unique challenges, as it might be difficult to maintain sufficient skin contact if the animal is moving, and it might not like wearing the monitors, DHS said. Vests might unintentionally raise body temperature while other products may be “consumed, chewed on, or otherwise destroyed by canines when not under direct supervision,” DHS said.
Last year DHS sought to use a commercially available collar called Pet Pace in order to conduct the monitoring it now seeks in the vest. Roberts said that option was not viable.
“We decided not to move forward to the next phase, ” he said, but declined to specify further.