Bowlingual (バウリンガル), or "Bow-Lingual" as the North American version is spelled, is a computer-based dog-to-human language translation device developed by Japanese toy company Takara and first sold in Japan in 2002. Versions for South Korea and the United States were launched in 2003. The device was honored by Time Magazine as a "Best Invention of 2002." Additionally, in 2002, Bowlingual's credited inventors Keita Satoh, then President of Takara; Dr. Matsumi Suzuki, President of Japan Acoustic Lab; and Dr. Norio Kogure, Executive Director, Kogure Veterinary Hospital, were awarded the humorous Ig Nobel Prize for "promoting peace and harmony between the species."
The device is billed as a "translator" but it might more precisely be called an emotion analyzer. It is said to use technology to categorize dog barks into one of six standardized emotional categories. Then, for fun, Bowlingual also provides an often humorous phrase representative of that emotion. But the product package clearly notes that the phrases "are for entertainment purposes only" and it seems that they are not meant to be true translations of each bark.
The product claims to work on any breed of dog with over 80 different dog breeds pre-programmed for easy initial set-up. For mixed breeds, the user must input the type of dog by size and shape of the muzzle.
Bowlingual also has several other functions which vary slightly depending on regional version, including dog training tips, a "Bow Wow Diary," tips on understanding your dog's body language, a medical checklist, and a home alone bark recording function.
The device consists of a hand-held receiver, which also acts as the controller and contains an LCD information screen and a wireless microphone-transmitter which attaches to a dog's collar. When a dog barks, the microphone records and transmits the sound to the hand-held unit for computer analysis against a database of thousands of dog barks. The unit then categorizes the bark into one of six distinct dog emotions (happy, sad, frustrated, on-guard, assertive, needy) and displays the corresponding emotion on the screen. After displaying the emotion, Bowlingual then displays one of nearly 200 cute or humorous phrases which have been categorized to fit within the range of each emotion and, according to the package, "represent what your dog might say, if only it could speak."
Three regional versions of Bowlingual have been released. One for Japan, a nearly identical version for South Korea and a functionally, slightly modified version for the United States and Canada. Although there was a minor grey-market trade of the English version to countries around the world, due to the transmission and frequency specifications used in the wireless collar-microphone system, each regional version was likely to malfunction if used outside of its intended region, due to incompatibility with local frequency spectrums.
In May 2003, at the request of the Japan Foreign Ministry, Takara provided Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi with two prototypes of the English version of Bowlingual several months before it had been released in North America. Koizumi presented these special items to Russian President Vladimir Putin, one for each of his dogs (Tosca, a standard Poodle, and Connie, a Labrador Retriever), at ceremonies celebrating the 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg.
Full article ▸