The iPad might offer a new solution for scientists wishing to communicate with dolphins.
Dolphin researcher Jack Kassewitz is using an iPad to interact with a 2-year-old dolphin named Merlin. Kassewitz says this could potentially not only allow humans and dolphins to interact, but also be easily used as a universal translator for humans.
“For several years, we’ve recognized that part of the problem in creating an artificial language between humans and dolphins has been the speed of acquisition of the human brain; it’s just not up to competing (with that of the dolphin),” Kassewitz, president of SpeakDolphin, a non-profit firm heading up the dolphin research, told reporters recently.
Kassewitz said the dolphin’s “acoustic range is so broad and ours is so limited, and our speed to react to their sound is so slow, I think we were just plain boring.”
He turned to computer hardware, special software for recording real-time data, and underwater microphones.
Kassewitz has whittled down potential human-dolphin interfaces to the iPad and the Panasonic Toughbook 19 over the past two years. Trials with the iPad are underway, and the results are encouraging. The tests are being conducted in Puerto Aventuras, Mexico at Dolphin Discovery, which has facilities for swimming with dolphins.
The ultimate goal is to develop a system of symbols and sounds that correspond to objects and concepts for dolphins and humans to communicate.
Kassewitz chose the iPad because it is lightweight and touch sensitive. Other key advantages it has to offer is that it is fast and has apps like SignalScope, which turns the iPad into a high-tech oscilloscope for capturing recorded sound.
The iPad was encased in a waterproof bag called the Waterwear in order to make it dolphin-friendly.
Merlin is just performing simple interactions with the iPad so far. Kassewitz will show the dolphin an image of an object on the iPad, and if Merlin recognizes the object then he will tap the touch screen with his nose and then proceed to touch the real 3-D object that someone is holding nearby. The dolphin’s sounds are being recorded underwater during the same time.
The iPad was simply a new gadget for Merlin. The dolphin is used to interacting with real objects, so when Kassewitz held up the iPad he saw it as “something novel,” he said. “For him, it was a new toy.”
Kassewitz has talked with computer programmers who are interested in creating more complex apps, possibly ones that respond with dolphin-like sounds.
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