This August American dog owners will finally get their hands on the gadget that's made the Japanese sit up and beg: Takara's canine-to-human translator. Since September the eccentric Japanese toy company has sold 300,000 Bowlinguals, a collar-worn dog radio that converts barks and growls into 200 phrases and pictures through a handheld monitor.
Takara had animal behaviorists and acoustics researchers parse 2,000 woofs from 80 breeds to identify when a dog is happy, sad, frustrated, needy or angry. The receiver also lets you know what different wags and ear angles mean. (A fake bark from a reporter produced a picture of a needy dog face with "let's play" written below it.) The device also provides daily graphs of a pooch's emotional highs and lows, on an emotion scale ranging from 0 to 100.
The $100 Bowlingual has been a hit in gadget-crazed Japan, which has 12 million dogs and a good number of underemployed dog owners with a little too much time on their hands. In the U.S., with a dog population of 67 million, Takara hopes to sell 1 million units between August and March 2004.
A secret Takara laboratory is now working on decoding the secret language of birds, cats, fish and plants by using sensors to equate movement and temperature changes to emotional or physiological fluctuations. Presumably we will soon know whether plants really like classical music.