Plucked from Obscurity: Technology + Animals

The following is an article from The Annals of Improbable Research, now in all-pdf form. Get a subscription now for only $25 a year!

Inventive, yet under-publicized devices
by Marina Tsipis, Improbable Research staff

The history of technology is, in part, the history of machinery that works in cooperation with animals (or with things that look or sound like animals). Here is a part of that part of technology history.

Dog-Assisted Surveillance
U.S. patent #6782847 granted August 31, 2004 to David Shemesh and Dan Forman, both based in Israel, for an “automated surveillance monitor of non-humans in real time.” The patent contains a sequence of three drawings—reproduced here—that, by themselves, pretty much explain the inventors’ thinking.

Nevertheless, Shemesh and Forman also attempt a description in words. Here is their in-a-nutshell verson:

A system for non human animal-based surveillance including a non-human animal-borne, non-human animal noise sensor, and a non-human animal noise analyzer operative to receive sensed nonhuman animal noises, to determine at least partially there from whether an alarm situation exists and to provide an alarm indication output.

In this technical drawing, one of the sensor-bearing dogs is alarmed by a passing cat. The dog says “WOOF WOOF WOOF.” Inventors David Shemesh and Dan Forman write that “FIG. 1A illustrates surveillance apparatus 10, mounted on a guard dog, which communicates with a monitoring station 12, preferably via a wireless network 14.... The surveillance apparatus 10 preferably comprises a barking sensor assembly 20, typically comprising amicrophone/speaker 22, which outputs via a filter 24 to an amplifier 26 and thence preferably to a analog to digital converter 28.”

In this technical drawing, two of the sensor-bearing dogs are alarmed by a passing terrorist. Both dogs say “WOOF WOOF WOOF.” Shemesh and Forman write that “FIG. 1B illustrates a situation wherein the amplitude and perhaps also the frequency of the barking of a dog indicates an alarm situation.”

In this technical drawing, three passing terrorists have killed one of the sensor-bearing dogs. The other dog says “WOOF WOOF WOOF.” Shemesh and Forman write that “One or more video displays 54 showing a scene as imaged by video camera 47 as well as communication apparatus, typically including at least one speaker 56, at least one microphone 58 and at least one keyboard 60, enable personnel at the remote monitoring station to speak or send messages to persons at a site protected by the system of the present invention, as illustrated in FIG. IB and FIG. 1C.... FIG. 1C illustrates a situation where a dog has been killed by an intruder, also indicating an alarm situation.”

Artificial-Cat-Based Scarecrow
U.S. patent #1167502 was granted to Hugh Huffman and Ernest J. Peck of Portland, Oregon on January 11, 1916 for a “scarecrow” that features an artificial cat. The cat’s movements, driven by wind, gravity, and Isaac Newton’s three laws of motion, are intended to mimic those of a genuine, living feline.

Hugh Huffman and Ernest J. Peck invented this scarecrow. “Prior to our invention,” they wrote, “scare crows ordinarily used were crude affairs, being generally homemade and not wholly satisfactory.... One of the main objects of our invention is to provide a more efficient form of scare crow consisting of a figure formed to resemble a living animal in the posture of approaching its prey. The means of mounting this scare crow are so arranged that the action of the wind will give various motions to the figure which will simulate the lifelike movements of the animal. The figure is also provided with an audible alarm which will sound in accordance with the movements of the figure.”

False Heartbeat to Attract Mosquitoes
U.S. patent #5241778 was granted to Ron D. Price of Pasadena, Texas on September 7, 1993 for a “method of attracting and eradicating insects comprising attracting insects to a heartbeat sound.” Mr. Price writes writes: “The present invention is based on the concept that insects, and particularly female mosquitoes, are attracted to an animal as a food source by the acoustic sounds of the animal’s heartbeat.... Research has suggested that mosquitoes are particularly attracted to the acoustic sounds simulating a human heartbeat operating at an above-normal frequency and/or to the heartbeat of a sick individual.”

Ron D. Price invented this device to attract mosquitoes by electronically generating the sound of a human heart beating. The drawing here shows the sound generator, and also an “eradication unit... comprising a sensor 50, toxic gas container 52, solenoid valve 54, spray nozzle 56, and converter 58.”


U.S. patent #4411156 was granted to Henry E. Lowe of Cassopolis, Michigan on October 25, 1983 for an “odor testing apparatus.” The invention is meant to aid manufacturers of animal litter, who sometimes find it difficult to gauge how much their products will stink over time. The patent explains how to build:

An apparatus for testing small animal litter in which a plurality of compartments are employed for living quarters for the small animals, such as cats, and for a container with litter to be tested, and these animal compartments are connected by conduits to a compartment for a tester to use to sniff the odor from any one of the animal compartments.

Henry A. Lowe invented this apparatus for testing the odor emanating from used animal litter. In his patent, Lowe writes that “a fan is provided in the tester’s compartment for drawing the air from any selected one of the animal compartments into and through the tester’s compartment. Drains are preferably provided in the bottom of the compartments to permit water and other liquids to drain therefrom.”


The article above is republished with permission from the January-February 2008 issue of the Annals of Improbable Research. You can download or purchase back issues of the magazine, or subscribe to receive future issues. Or get a subscription for someone as a gift! Visit their website for more research that makes people LAUGH and then THINK.

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