(TNS) -- A running joke University of Colorado assistant professor Ben Shapiro hears frequently about his work: "Could there be a more Boulder research project?"
Turns out, no.
Shapiro, who teaches in the ATLAS Institute computer science department, is interested in how animals, people and technology interact. Inspired by his own dog, Dobby, he brought Ph.D. student Ilyena Hirskyj-Douglas all the way from England to talk about empowering dogs to use technology.
"Nobody in Boulder seems to have experience in this, and this is something me and my students are really interested in," Shapiro said. "People are really passionate about the animals in their lives."
Hirskyj-Douglas studied how dogs watch TV.
Using her black lab, Zach, she conducted in-depth video research capturing her dog's reaction to various television shows — from soap operas to Animal Planet — and then studied his behavior when she hooked up a device allowing him to turn the television on and off. She concluded Zach liked having the TV on, but didn't often watch it and had a short attention span. He had a particular penchant for shows with other dogs.
While she shared her research, dog lovers filled the ATLAS classroom, including two canines in the flesh — Oso and Champ.
Michael Eisenberg, a professor in the computer science department, said his dog loves listening to music so much that he created a Pandora station for him — specifically, big band-era music.
"He falls asleep with the iPod in his paws," Eisenberg said. "Especially when it's raining. It's like a mood thing for him."
He wondered if Hirskyj-Douglas had studied anything that would make sense of his dog's behavior. While she said her project was more about dogs' attention to technology rather than enjoyment, she said this lack of research was exactly why she wanted to study the subject.
"It's such a new field," she said. "I think it's going to grow massively. We've never really designed tech for animals, and they're very much deserving of that."
Behind her, Oso chomped on a tennis ball in agreement.
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