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Student Q&A with 2023 Grade 4-6 Winners, PetConnect


Now entering its thirty-second year, ExploraVision, sponsored by Toshiba and administered by the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA), is the largest K-12 science competition in the world. Student teams, with the help of a teacher, identify a problem they want to help solve with science and technology, and work together to create a solution addressing the problem. In 2023, student winners sought to use drones to detect wildfire smoke, educate pet parents with AI, manufacture eco-friendly clothing, address hearing loss, and more.

This blog will take a deeper look at PetConnect, the winning project in the fourth- through sixth-grade group.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for PetConnect?

A: When my family first got our dog, Dash, he was very high-energy, and we had a hard time figuring out what he wanted when he barked. Was he hungry? Did he want to play? Was he trying to warn us about something? We thought that if there was a way to decipher what each bark meant, it would help pet owners figure out their pet’s needs faster.

Q: Can you describe how PetConnect works?

A: We designed PetConnect to be an app that translates your pet’s sounds, emotions, and behaviors with artificial intelligence (AI). With audio or video uploaded to the app, PetConnect detects your pet’s sounds and movements and compares it to PetConnect’s existing pet translation data. The app provides you with an answer based on its database and its experience with your pet.  Over time, the AI model within the app will make more accurate translations as it gets to know your pet.

Q: What technology advancements need to happen for PetConnect to become a reality over the next 10 years?

A: Scientists have made great strides with AI for humans. People can interact with chatbots to solve a problem or receive an answer to their question. But science hasn’t even touched the surface of AI for pet translation. We believe that breakthroughs in visual AI, emotional AI, and audio AI are needed to bring this app to life. Currently, visual AI can detect facial expressions and their corresponding meanings in humans. For PetConnect, we would need visual AI to identify a pet’s body language and decipher their mood through visual cues. We also need AI to listen to a pet’s audio cues and translate its meaning.

Q: If PetConnect was a functional app today, what positive effects would you hope users get out of it?

A: We hope our technology improves the connection between people and their pets. We also hope that it would help to educate new pet parents on their animal’s needs. With PetConnect, pet owners wouldn’t have to guess what their pet wants—the AI will tell the owner exactly what their pet is saying through sounds and body language, which ensures that the owner is fulfilling the pet’s needs.

Q: What advice do you have for students working on their first ExploraVision project?

A: Pick a topic you’re passionate about. We have pets and thought it would be cool to figure out a way to translate what they’re communicating to us. We had a lot of fun learning about AI and figuring out what our app would look like and how it would function!

As the first-place national winners in their age group, each student who worked on PetConnect received a $10,000 savings bond and an expense paid trip to the ExploraVision Awards Weekend in Washington, D.C.

Are you inspired, get your students, kids, and form a team with your friends to get involved at www.exploravision.org by the end of January.