Dog training generally requires a human dog trainer, but what if it doesn't and gives better results? That is the promise of a startup called Companion Labs, which, in collaboration with the San Francisco SPCA, has launched its first AI-controlled dog training machine.
The CompanionPro trainer is similar to a Soviet space heater, but includes image sensors, a Google Edge TPU-AI processor, wireless connectivity, light sources, a speaker, and a proprietary "Treat Launcher" that offers all the important training rewards.
Computer vision is the key to how the machine works. It detects a dog's behavior in real time to optimize rewards and reinforce the desired behavior. It remains to be seen how well it can approximate the experience of an experienced human trainer, though SF SPCA indicates that an expert-reviewed case study will soon be released on how the machine works with a dog suffering from separation anxiety, which by definition manifests itself if there is no trainer to take care of it.
In general, Companion promises that, according to the company's TensorFlow blog post, the machine "will perform excellently on repetitive tasks with perfect consistency and infinite patience." This suggests that scaling not only has the repeatability of the workout in mind, but also the volume. "Companion technology enables animal shelters to use the time animals spend alone to relieve stress and teach dogs the behavior that can help them be adopted faster and stay in loving homes forever," says the SF SPCA blog post.
While the machine has audio command features, it can start training without saying anything, use the computer image to see when the dog is doing something desirable, and trigger a reward to reward it.
Companion is based in the offices of SF SPCA and was founded by John Honchariw, a volunteer who also served as technical manager in Google's robotics and AI departments.
CompanionPro can be pre-ordered from mid 2020. Like many new tech products, it is offered as a service. Monthly fees are $ 499 and $ 249, depending on how many dogs a company wants to train with them at the same time. However, founder John Honchariw also said that Companion Labs "will always be nonprofit with nonprofit accommodations."