‘Donkey Whisperer’ Helps Create Tech That Translates Braying Into Speech
Technology| | By Valerie Cools
If you love talking donkeys like the one Eddie Murphy voiced in the Shrek movies, or Winnie-the-Pooh‘s Eeyore, you’re in luck: new technology claims to translate donkeys’ braying into English.
Mark Ineson is the owner of Real Donkeys, a donkey riding service in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire in England. A self-proclaimed “donkey whisperer,” Ineson has been recruited by the entertainment group Merlin Events to help create this technology.
Ineson has studied and worked with donkeys for 20 years, and has developed an intuition for understanding what they are trying to communicate, based on the frequencies and vibrations of the noises they make, as well as their facial expressions.
“[We] work very closely with them, day in day out, and pick up on their mannerisms, their emotions, what they’re thinking basically,” Ineson told Reuters.
Ineson worked with Merlin Events to help perfect a device that hangs below the donkeys’ jaw and translates the noises they make into simple sentences. The technology was put on display in London on Tuesday, when children were able to ride equipped donkeys around the Jubilee Gardens, and listen to them “talk” through headsets. The donkeys, named Carl, Sally, Danny, and Sony, were brought in from Ineson’s business.
The device was created by Design Works. Sean Miles, their head of production, admitted that “getting donkeys to talk was a whole new challenge for [them].”
“While the technology that identifies sounds as a trigger was relatively achievable, figuring out the animals’ emotions was much harder,” he said. “For this part, we were able to work with Mark […] to get a gauge on the animals’ emotional responses and ultimately create a piece of technology that is very intuitive to what the donkeys are communicating.”
The event, which ended on Thursday, has drawn criticism for what some perceive is animal exploitation. Meanwhile, Ineson states on his website, “I love my donkeys very much and would never swop (sic) them for the world.”
This isn’t the first we’ve heard about technologies that help us understand our animal companions. Earlier this month, another company unveiled a dog harness that changes color according to a puppy’s emotions.
When used wisely and cautiously, these gadgets could helps us better respond to animals’ needs.