IBM Cloud, Watson Help Guiding Eyes Breed Superior Guide Dogs

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2016-03-24 Print this article Print
dog breeding

"Often it's nature versus nurture," Russenberger said. "But we want to use Watson to help with breeding the dogs and also with pairing individuals with dogs. We want the right dog with the right person."

Watson will help with the nature part of that equation. The nurture part comes from the dog raisers and the trainers Guiding Eyes enlists. One such puppy raiser, Lorraine Trapani, an IBM executive program manager for Government and Regulatory Affairs, said she initially became a service dog puppy raiser when her husband was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given three months to live. However, with the puppy around, he fought for 18 months before succumbing to the disease, and Trapani has held her door open for pups to raise ever since, she said.

"IBM is working with this organization to increase the number of dogs with the right traits to be guide dogs," Trapani said.

Indeed, not all of the puppies that enter the program graduate to become guide dogs. About 50 percent do not make it, and those who don't are used as service dogs for autistic children or for detection work—searching for drugs, guns, explosives and such, Russenberger said. At nearly $50,000 to train each dog, there is little room for error.

In January, Guiding Eyes invited Dr. Chris Tseng, professor of Computer Science at San Jose State University, to analyze its trove of DNA and behavioral data.

Tseng and students in his machine-learning classes are using Watson's Personality and Natural Language Processing APIs on IBM's Bluemix platform as a service to sift through the CDC data try to identify patterns and correlating traits, characteristics, environmental conditions and personalities of the best-performing dogs—for both dogs and trainers.

By May, the group is hoping to establish a process for identifying data that will lead to producing dogs best suited for service to the blind.

"Guiding Eyes is a great example of how IBM Cloud can help organizations innovate new business models and processes that were heretofore unthinkable," said William Karpovich, general manager of IBM Cloud Platform, in a statement. "Through the IBM Cloud, Guiding Eyes is now able to advance even further its critical work in breeding, raising and training service dogs for those in need."

And then there is Watson.

"Once we get Watson to understand how to make a guide dog, we're going to look at the genome and use genomics to make the dogs right—for the right people," Russenberger said.

A video of Jackson, a dog going from puppyhood to graduation as a guide meeting his new partner, can be found here. Meanwhile, Ed, pictured in the photo accompanying this article, is a 15-month old yellow Labrador Retriever who is training to become a guide dog. But perhaps Guiding Eyes' most famous student is Wrangler, a 2-year old yellow Lab who gained notoriety over the past year as a regular on NBC's "The Today Show."


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