Facial recognition app for dogs developed to help in fight against rabies

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app for dogs with rabies
Photo: Example of the Facial Recognition application interface. (a) Transparent outline of a dog face to guide the placement of the face on the screen; (b) dog facing camera; (c) application user interface for registering dog information. Credit: Scientific Reports (2023).

A new mobile phone-based facial recognition application for dogs has the potential to significantly improve rabies vaccination efforts in endemic areas like Africa and Asia, according to US researchers. 

In the study—led by researchers at Washington State University and published in Scientific Reports—the team used the app to test its effectiveness at a rabies vaccination clinic in rural Tanzania where they microchipped, vaccinated and registered dogs.

The technology proved remarkably accurate during a subsequent visit to surrounding villages once poor images and improperly recorded information were removed from its database. Using the app, operators identified 76.2 per cent of vaccinated dogs and 98.9 per cent of unvaccinated dogs.

“When carrying out mass vaccination, one of the major problems that we face is trying to identify which dogs have and haven’t been vaccinated,” the study’s principal investigator A/Prof Felix Lankester said.

“For example, microchips are too expensive to use at the scales needed to eliminate rabies, and collars can be removed by owners. We developed this app to see if facial recognition might work, and it’s showing great promise in helping us to achieve that goal.”

The facial recognition algorithm used within the application identifies a dog by examining key components of its face and comparing it to images of the faces of other dogs in its archive of previously stored images. Images with the highest number of similar components are returned as possible matches, and the user must decide if there is a match.

The app depends on image quality and information about each dog, including its age, colour and sex, being properly recorded. 

A/Prof Lankester said the app’s effectiveness could be improved with better technology—like newer smartphones with high-quality cameras—and additional operator training.

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