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October-December 2002


The Bowlingual picks up a dog's voice on the collar microphone and translates it into human words on the main component. (TAKARA Co., Ltd. 2002)

Now people in Japan can understand their dogs better than ever before with a gadget that translates doggy talk into human words. Bowlingual, the new device made by toymaker Takara Co. (site is Japanese only), has dogs saying things like "I'm feeling great!" "It's so annoying!" and "Come on, play with me!" Kids and grown-ups alike are fascinated by the thought of finding out what their canine buddies are really thinking.

A 13-year-old boy tried using the Bowlingual on his dog, a Japanese spitz. When he approaches the dog, it bounces around in joy and gives a short excited yelp. The little screen on the device displays the words, "You wanna fight?" When chased around by the boy, the dog starts yapping, which is translated as, "Grr, you think you can beat me, do you?" Although the translations may seem surprisingly aggressive, the spitz is just having fun. Soon it rolls over and grunts softly as the boy strokes its stomach. It's saying, "Gently, do some more," according to the device. "I think it's pretty accurate," comments the boy happily. "It makes me love my dog even more than before!"


Here's how the "dog translator" works. The Bowlingual is made up of two parts, the main component and a microphone. The microphone, which is about 8 centimeters wide and weighs 36 grams, is attached to the dog's collar. It picks up vocal sounds produced by the dog and sends them to the main component, which then analyzes the sounds, determines which of six emotional states the dog is in, and comes up with the best match from among the approximately 200 translation patterns in its database. The results are shown on the component's liquid crystal display along with a cartoon face that shows how the dog is feeling.

The Bowlingual is preprogrammed with settings for 50 different breeds, and people who have dogs of other breeds or of mixed breed can choose from among six settings, depending on the dog's size and muzzle length. This means that the device translates a dog's voice according to the dog type. It took two years for the manufacturer to develop the device with the cooperation of a vet who is also an animal behavior specialist. In addition to giving us insight into canine thought, the Bowlingual can also help us do a quick health check by responding to a series of questions about a dog's condition.

The new product went on sale in September 2002, and the first batch of 30,000 units sold out in no time. In October it was chosen for an Ig Nobel Prize, a parody of the Nobel Prize that is sponsored by a science humor magazine affiliated with Harvard University in the United States. The developers of the Bowlingual received a peace prize "for promoting peace and harmony between the species." In November, furthermore, the American magazine Time cited the device as one of the 42 best inventions of the year.

Riding this wave, Takara hopes to sell 300,000 units by the end of March 2003 and an additional 600,000 units in the period between April 2003 and March 2004. From 2003 onward, moreover, the Bowlingual will gradually be introduced in other countries, starting with South Korea in June 2003. So be sure to keep your eyes open for the product!