Guide dogs help to provide people with vision loss with independence, safety, and, perhaps equally important – companionship. These puppies with a purpose change lives for the better in many, many ways. I volunteer as a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind because I saw first-hand how my late husband’s vision loss affected him during his battle with cancer. I want to help make lives better for people who are blind or have impaired vision.
Guiding Eyes for the Blind is a non-profit organization dedicated to the breeding, raising, training and placement of guide dogs with people who are blind or visually impaired. Guiding Eyes is using Watson to help pair more guide dogs with those who need them.
The stakes are high: each dog costs Guiding Eyes approximately $50,000 to train over two years, and only half of the dogs raised and trained will graduate as guide dogs or be chosen as dogs to breed. Of all puppies bred at Guiding Eyes, 37 percent eventually become guide dogs and another 13 percent are provided to other organizations to succeed in less demanding service dog work. Guiding Eyes is using Watson in its quest to further improve the process and increase the success of its program.
By using Watson on the cloud, Guiding Eyes has analyzed 500,000 medical records and 65,000 records about dog temperaments, matching characteristics and personality traits of trainers with dogs’ temperament, medical and genetic data. Based on a sample of 105 guide dogs, Watson has been able to predict with 100 percent accuracy which guide dogs would successfully graduate from Guiding Eyes’ training.
As a volunteer, I receive the puppies at 8 weeks of age and spend about a year raising them at my home in Ridgefield, Conn. Then the puppies go back to Guiding Eyes to be professionally trained in guide work — a process that typically takes about six months. Sometimes, dogs receive additional training to assist with multiple challenges. The first puppy that I raised, Merrick, was trained to work with a deaf and blind person. Ed, another puppy that I raised, is working as a guide dog for a man whose family includes five daughters.
Merrick and Ed are among the more than 7,000 guide dogs that Guiding Eyes for the Blind has trained since 1954 to help people with vision loss gain greater independence by being paired with a guide dog. My new puppy, TJ, is named after IBM founder’s T.J. Watson, and is the sixth puppy I’ve raised.
To expand the scope of factors that Watson can take into account, Guiding Eyes and IBM are working with researchers at North Carolina State University to tackle the challenge of dog stress, one of the most difficult traits to measure and among the biggest predictors of a dog’s ability to graduate from the Guiding Eyes training program and work with people.
Researchers are developing wearable devices equipped with sensors to measure behavior and heart rate level of puppies that measure how puppies vary in their emotional response to potentially stressful situations. These “Internet of Things” devices can enable more effective breeding, raising and training for the puppies to become guide dogs.
In the U.S., someone becomes blind every seven minutes, and as the “Baby Boomer” generation faces age-related vision loss, the demand is increasing. Ultimately, the Guiding Eyes and Watson partnership will increase graduation rates to help meet the growing demand for guide dogs.
Watson represents a new era in computing called cognitive computing, where systems understand the world in a way more similar to humans: through senses, learning, and experience. Watson continuously learns from previous interactions, gaining in value and knowledge over time. With the help of Watson, organizations are harnessing the power of cognitive computing to transform industries, help professionals do their jobs better, and solve important societal challenges.
Thanks, @Monica Kipp. This technology definitely has many potential applications. Certainly in the service animal field–regardless of the type of service (i.e., guide dogs, detection dogs, seizure and diabetic alert dogs, dogs for children on the autism spectrum, military dogs), as well as show animals–dogs, horses, etc. It’s very exciting.
You look beautiful Lorraine and the work you are doing is splendid. I am so happy for you that you have found such rewarding work. You so deserve these rewards! I am retired and in Florida now over two years. I am south of Disney…my door is always open to you. God bless you for all that you do to help others!
Excellent article, Lorraine. It is so exciting that Guiding Eyes and IBM are teaming up on this project. Puppy raising is one of the most important jobs I’ve had, and I look forward to learning how the project will improve the puppy/raiser team with the end goal of more successful dogs.
This is really cool. 100% successful predication rate? Nice! Is there any technical information available onlin or internally about the training data, and prediction technique? Was this project the result of IBM outreach to do a good deed, or is Guiding Eyes a Watson Bluemix customer? I’d love to know more.
Incidentally, I felt compelled to go to the guidingeyes.org website and made a recurring donation to a good cause as a result of this video.
Oh! I need to know one other very important thing: How do I get my dog one of those plush I “BEE” M bees?! She needs one for sure.
Its a wonderful thing when your passion and your work come together! Thank you, Lorraine, Watson and GEB for coming together for such a worthy cause. I’m a volunteer for GEB, myself and having Watson interpret all of the data on our puppies and dogs in order to predict those that will be successful guides is a great accomplishment. To be able to give the gift of independence to those who needs these dogs is beyond words !
Thanks, @Deb Aiello! Proud to be your colleague — at both IBM and as a volunteer with @Guidingeyes. Watson will take our contributions, as IBMers, to a whole new level. At a cost of $50,000 per dog, whether they make it or not, Watson will also maximize the effective impact of donations, upon which Guiding Eyes for the Blind depends to continue their life changing work.
Since, ‘only half of the dogs raised and trained will graduate as guide dogs or be chosen as dogs to breed’ could Watson be used at an earlier stage and assess dogs coming into the program or earlier in the process to determine if they will succeed or not.
Seems like that would help save lots of money as well.
@Kathy. Thanks, Kathy. That’s exactly the plan…Watson will help Guiding Eyes make decisions on which dogs to breed to create litters with the greatest chance of success, which of those pups have the greatest chance of becoming guide dogs, and which are then placed with volunteer puppy raisers–and which raiser to place them with to best progress their skills, and then which trainer, and eventually which recipient to place them with. Watson will eventually be helping at each stage of their journey.
Little did Jim and I know what an asset you would become to the GEB/IBM Watson program when you asked us to be a reference for raising a puppy.
You may be proud of IBM but I’m sure they are just as proud of you.
We sure are!
Loved to read about this and would love to see the research when it comes through. Being involved in dog training interested to see how the body language matches the stresses the dogs are under, especially with puppies who are just learning to explore their world.
@ Sheila. Thanks Sheila. This is where IOT technology will interact with Watson, providing, through a wearable device, feedback on tension building in the pups at a much earlier point than when it becomes visible. As a puppy raiser, I will eventually get real-time info on stress building in the pup so that I can adjust the exposure/pressure appropriately to keep the pup in the “Think and Learn Zone.” This is one of the ways in which Watson will help more puppies succeed as guide dogs.
Thanks for volunteering with Guiding Eyes, Carl! You home socialize the pups right before they come to raisers like me. The evaluations you complete on their behavior and environment during their stay with you are part of the data that Watson uses to provide insights to Guiding Eyes, helping them make decisions.
Way to go Lorraine! I’m a puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence (www.cci.org). I love raising puppies and have helped raise around 12 now. I need to find out how I can get IBM more involved with our group.
I have supported Guiding Eyes for years through charitable contributions but your efforts go way beyond dollars. It takes heart & patience to raise a puppy let alone a puppy with the hope of being the eyes for someone in need. My you be blessed for all your efforts.
Thank you Lorraine for your personal engagement. What you are doing is noble. I love dogs and to see these puppies being raised by people like you to then be trained further to assist other people – is just emotional and it’s amazing what Watson can do for the society, for us.
Thanks, Simona. It is very emotional to see a puppy that you’ve raised from 8 weeks of age become a guide dog and meet the person who has received this priceless gift. It was also emotional when the Senior Director of Genetics and Breeding at Guiding Eyes, who has devoted herself to this work, said, “Watson blew my mind.” #ProudIBMer
@MaureenDaley. Thanks, Maureen. Dogs not suitable for guide work are considered for other types of less demanding service work or other alternative careers such as detection work or law enforcement. Those pups who would be happier being a pet are available for adoption…although, as you can imagine, there is a waiting list for these special pups! You can learn more about the adoption process at https://www.guidingeyes.org/learn/dog-adoption/
@FrancesJBaldwin Frances, I’m so sorry your brother is having challenges with his vision. If he is interested in receiving a guide dog at some point in the future, you can find more information about the process at https://www.guidingeyes.org/prospective-students/
Lorraine, I could also envision Watson being used to track individual dog abilities, and if a dog is not a good match for being a guide dog, Watson could reach out to other dog assisted therapy organizations who may be looking for specific abilities and be a source for other service dog organizations. There are many possible options for the future of animal assisted therapy!
As a person who has been deaf since birth, and now getting older with creaking bones….I have long wondered if having a service dog would be beneficial for me and from what I have read within the article….Watson is capable of predicting which dog will pass or fail….however I am curious to know if Watson is capable of predicting a good relationship between guide dog and potential human partner……
We raise puppies for the Seeing Eye as well and technology that raises the success rate of the puppies is extremely precious. It takes a lot of resources to train and place one puppy and the benefit to society is priceless. This is innovation that matters
What a really meaningful task for Watson!
Lorraine, I truly adore your generous commitment. Don´t think that I´d be able to give the puppies off for the sake of someone else. You did this again and again, Chapeau!
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