Heard on the Hill

This collar can tell if you’re not cutting the mustard

Puppy and guide dog hopeful Kate shows off her ‘smart collar’ on Capitol Hill

Guide dog hopeful Kate brings something strange into the Capitol: a sense of calm. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Until Kate showed up, it was just another hectic Wednesday on the House side of the Capitol campus, with communicators communicating, reporters reporting, and lawmakers lawmaking.

Maybe it was her subdued temperament, or maybe it was her calming demeanor. But something changed the minute she walked in the room.

Kate is a 14-month-old black Lab training to be a guide dog with Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a “non-profit that breeds, raises, trains and places guide dogs with the visually impared,” according to its website. The playful pup stopped by Rep. David Price’s office to show off her “smart collar” and give into belly rubs.

“Has she just had a long day?” Price asked as Kate lay on her side, completely relaxed.

UNITED STATES - MAY 1: Volunteer puppy raiser Lorraine Trapani speaks with Rep. David Price, D-N.C., as he pets Kate, a 14 month old black labrador retriever in the Guiding Eyes for the Blind training program, in his office on Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Kate is wearing a "smart collar" using IBM technology to help evaluate which dogs are best suited for the program. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Kate rests her head on Rep. Dave Price’s knee as volunteer trainer Lorraine Trapani explains her “smart collar.” (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

The “smart collar” is a Bluetooth-enabled device that collects data as intricate as a dog’s response to real-life situations in order to asses its “qualifications” to take on the paramount task of guiding the blind.

Imagine knowing you were hired for a job because there was scientific data to prove that you were, in fact, the perfect fit. This is essentially what Kate’s smart collar does. And though hearing negative feedback is ruff, puppies that don’t make the cut are encouraged to pursue other service opportunities like law enforcement, therapy or adoption. (Would-be adopters: It’s a four-year waiting list, so good luck.)

Price represents Research Triangle Park in North Carolina, a sprawling research campus that houses a major outpost of IBM. Guiding Eyes uses IBM’s artificial intelligence technology, Watson, to process data transmitted from its collars.

Meeting Kate allowed the Democrat to see AI’s impact firsthand — and to hang around dogs for a change. The congressman owns two cats.

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