Designing a Canine-Centred Alarm for Medical Alert Dogs

This was the doctoral project of Charlotte Robinson, who started in January 2013 and completed in September 2018, supervised by Dr Clara Mancini and Prof Janet van der Linden. The project was in collaboration with UK Charity Medical Detection Dogs.


Many people with conditions such as Diabetes live with the continuous threat of hypoglycemic attacks, or other medical emergencies, and the danger of going into coma, or becoming dangerously incapacitated. Diabetes Alert Dogs, and more generally Medical Alert Dogs, are trained to detect the onset of an emergency before the condition of the assisted human they are paired with deteriorates, giving them time to take action. However, oftentimes the human’s condition is so brittle that they have no time to respond to the dog’s alert before they become completely and dangerously incapacitated, at which point the dog is powerless to offer further help.

The project researched the design of an alarm system allowing dogs to remotely call for help when their human becomes incapacitated. Through a combined approach including multispecies ethnography, rapid prototyping and user testing, the research aimed to identify the best design of a physical canine user interface as well as involving dogs, their handlers and specialist dog trainers in the design process as participants.

The project explored tensions between the requirements for canine and the human users, it highlighted the need for increased sensitivity towards the needs of individual dogs that goes beyond breed specific physical characteristics, and provided a platform to reflect on how ACI researchers might be able to move from designing for to designing with dogs and other nonhuman animals.

Further readings

Robinson, C., Mancini, C., van der Linden, J., Guest, C., Swanson, L., Marsden, H., Valencia, J., Aengenheister, B. (2015). Designing an emergency communication system for human and assistance dog partnershipsProc. ACM International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing, UbiComp’15, ACM Press, pp. 337-347.

Robinson, C., Mancini, C., van der Linden, J., Guest, C., Swanson, L. (2015). Exploring assistive technology for assistance dog owners in emergency situations. PETRA ’15: Proc. ACM International Conference on Pervasive Technologies Related to Assistive Environments, ACM Press.

Robinson, C., Mancini, C., van der Linden, J., Swanson, L., Guest, C. (2014). Exploring the Use of Personas for Designing with Dogs. Workshop on Animal-Computer Interaction: Pushing Boundaries Beyond ‘Human’, NordiCHI2014, 24th October, Helsinki.

Robinson, C., Mancini, C., van der Linden, J., Guest, C., Harris, R. (2014). Empowering Assistance Dogs: An Alarm Interface for Canine Use. Symposium on Intelligent Systems for Animal Welfare, ISAWEL’14, Proc. 50th convention on Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour, AISB’14.

Robinson, C., Mancini, C., van der Linden, J., Guest, C., Harris, R. (2014). Canine-Centered Interface Design: Supporting the Work of Diabetes Alert DogsProc. International ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI’14, ACM Press, pp. 3757-3766.