Of the 47 million homes in Japan, almost 40% have a pet. This percentage is among the highest in the world, and the pet industry is said to have a market value of 1 trillion yen. Dogs are the most common pet, with an estimated 10 million in the country. Years ago, dogs were kept mainly to guard the house, but today more people are treating them as part of the family.
For the doting dog owner, there's a new hit gadget called "Bowlingual." This amazing toy interprets doggy noises into words people can understand.
"We were daydreaming, thinking, wouldn't it be fun to be able to talk with animals... and this led to the development of Bowlingual," says Goto Masayoshi, a spokesman for the major toy maker, Takara, which first put the product on the market.
In the toy industry, a product is called a big hit if more than 100,000 are sold. Takara plans to ship 300,000 Bowlinguals to the retail market in just the first year.
They call it a toy, but it sure can do a lot. A wireless microphone on the dog's collar picks up its barks and other noises and transmits them to a handheld interpreting device. The device analyzes the voiceprint and displays the translation on a screen. It can display about 200 different sentences showing six statistically grouped categories of canine emotions, including: "This is fun," "I'm sad," "I want it now," and "Stay away!"
Bowlingual recognizes canine noises and groups them by emotion. It is accurate more than 90% of the time. This advanced technology is the result of research conducted jointly by Japan Acoustic Laboratory, which specializes in sound and voice analysis, and by Dr. Kogure Norio, a veterinary doctor expert in animal behavior.
Dog owners have always wanted to know what their faithful friends are thinking, and Bowlinguals have sold out consistently ever since hitting the stores in September 2002. Stocks remain low and sales are sky high even though the price 14,800 yen is a lot to pay for a toy or pet product.
Bowlingual won the Ig Nobel Prize for "promoting peace between the species" in the fall of 2002. Ig prizes are a spoof on the Nobel Prize. They are awarded by professors at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, to people whose research, inventions or products are creative and make us laugh. Actually, receiving an Ig is considered a great honor.
Goto says, "Since we began selling Bowlingual, lots of people have asked us to make one for cats, and to invent one that can interpret human words to animals. It's probably impossible to do that with today's technology, but hopefully some day we can."
Could it be that in the near future we'll be able to have a real conversation with our pets?