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Taming the Wild West of the Internet of Pets (Advert Reference: RDF21/EE/CIS/VANDERLINDENDirk)

Faculty of Engineering and Environment

Newcastle United Kingdom Other Other Other Other Social Work

About the Project

The market of technological gadgets for companion animals (e.g., cats and dogs) has exploded in size over the past decade. An ever-growing number of IoT devices have resulted in a poorly understood “Internet of Pets” (IoP), doing anything from entertaining dogs left home alone, to informing humans how to be better caregivers. Significant research has been done how these devices ought to be engineered—covered especially by the disciplines of Requirements Engineering (RE) and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). Its impact is evidenced by the rise of Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI) as an individual field, and broader acceptance of research priorities on more than human engineering within HCI and RE.
However, the market has outpaced research as demand for new technologies has led to rapid development of new devices, widespread adoption by consumers, and even integration into core IoT offerings of major telecom providers. Research must now also engage with, and regulate, IoP technology already available, rather than study a priori how to engineer new technology. Thus far this has been focused on one type of device in the IoP: wearables. However, the IoP covers far more diverse technologies already affecting animals, people, and society. From smart toys and feeders, to telemedicine and telepresence, we need to understand how these potentially under-engineered devices affect the very real animals and humans they serve.

This studentship sits squarely within NorSC and not only aligns with, but challenges and extends Northumbria’s strategy for (more than) human digital design; with NORTH Lab providing the glue between NorSC lab’s computer science expertise and needed interdisciplinary insights from psychology and critical design. It will expand NorSC’s capacity to conduct leading ACI research (currently consisting of Dr. van der Linden, Prof. Lawson, and Kliman-Silver) and provide a strong voice towards steering the IoP and more than human engineering discussions across different disciplines. It will do so through three key objectives:
1. Creating an evolving taxonomy of the IoP, by investigating:
a. The types of technologies on the market,
b. what interactions they intend to enable, &
c. what benefits they intend to have.
2. Studying how the IoP affects animals, people, and society, by investigating:
a. How and why people acquire these technologies,
b. what interactions they actually enable, &
c. what (dis)benefits they actually have.
3. Proposing how to steer consumer adoption of the IoP, by investigating:
a. how (dis)benefits and actual interactions can be mitigated and communicated, &
b. whether their (dis)benefits are significant under relevant law (e.g., AWA 2006)

The project will include HCI and RE engineering design research, empirical user studies, and critical analysis. A guiding principle will be strong interdisciplinary focus on lived experience, studying experiences of the IoP through a bottom-up approach, with no preconceived bias to what may be desirable, and critically including animal experiences through collaboration with Animal Behaviour and Veterinary Scientists. It is expected to result in a critical evolving taxonomy contrasting promised benefits of technology to actual (dis)benefits and provide key insight to steer the future engineering of the IoP.

The principal supervisor for this project is Dr. Dirk van der Linden.

Eligibility and How to Apply:

Please note eligibility requirement:
• Academic excellence of the proposed student i.e. 2:1 (or equivalent GPA from non-UK universities [preference for 1st class honours]); or a Masters (preference for Merit or above); or APEL evidence of substantial practitioner achievement.
• Appropriate IELTS score, if required.
• Applicants cannot apply for this funding if currently engaged in Doctoral study at Northumbria or elsewhere.

For further details of how to apply, entry requirements and the application form, see

Please note: Applications that do not include a research proposal of approximately 1,000 words (not a copy of the advert), or that do not include the advert reference (e.g. RDF21/EE/CIS/VANDERLINDENDirk) will not be considered.
Deadline for applications: 29 January 2021
Start Date: 1 October 2021
Northumbria University takes pride in, and values, the quality and diversity of our staff. We welcome applications from all members of the community.

Funding Notes

The studentship is available to Home and International (including EU) students, and includes a full stipend, paid for three years at RCUK rates (for 2020/21, this is £15,285 pa) and full tuition fees.


Recent publications by supervisors relevant to this project (optional)
• Dirk van der Linden: Interspecies information systems. arXiv:2004.12168 [cs.CY], Apr. 2020. (submitted to Requirements Engineering, current status: major revisions)
• Dirk van der Linden, Matthew Edwards, Irit Hadar, Anna Zamansky: Pets without PETs: on pet owners' under-estimation of privacy concerns in pet wearables. In: Proceedings on Privacy Enhancing Technologies (PoPETs), 2020(1), 2020.
• Anna Zamansky, Dirk van der Linden, Irit Hadar, Stephane Bleuer-Elsner: Log my dog: perceived impact of dog activity tracking. In: IEEE Computer, 52(9), pp. 35-43, 2019. doi 10.1109/MC.2018.2889637
• Dirk van der Linden, Anna Zamansky, Irit Hadar, Barnaby Craggs, Awais Rashid: Buddy's wearable is not your buddy: privacy implications of pet wearables. In: IEEE Security & Privacy, 17(3), pp. 28-39, 2019. doi 10.1109/MSEC.2018.2888783
• Dirk van der Linden, Emma Williams, Irit Hadar, Anna Zamansky: "Some might freak out" - What if your dog's activity tracker were to have a data breach? In: Proceedings of the Sixth Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction, ACM, Haifa, Israel, 2019.
• Dirk van der Linden, Brittany I. Davidson, Anna Zamansky: The not so secret life of pets: pet owners' privacy concerns for pet location data. In: Proceedings of the Sixth Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction, ACM, Haifa, Israel, 2019.
• Kopo M. Ramokapane, Dirk van der Linden, Anna Zamansky: "Does my dog really need a gadget?" - What can we learn from pet owners' amotivations for pet wearables? In: Proceedings of the Sixth Conference on Animal-Computer Interaction, ACM, Haifa, Israel, 2019.
• Dirk van der Linden, Anna Zamansky, Irit Hadar, Barnaby Craggs: Developing for non-human users: reflecting on practical implications in the ubiquitous computing era. In: Journal of Industrial Information Integration, 14, pp. 50-58, 2018. doi 10.1016/j.jii.2018.07.001
• Anna Zamansky, Dirk van der Linden: Activity Trackers for Raising Guide Dogs: Challenges and Opportunities. In: IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 37(4), pp. 62-69, 2018. doi 10.1109/MTS.2018.2876213
• Dirk van der Linden, Anna Zamansky: Agile with Animals: Towards a Development Method. In: Just-In-Time Requirements Engineering (JITRE), 2017 IEEE Workshop on, Lisbon, Portugal, 2017.
• Anna Zamansky, Dirk van der Linden, Sofya Baskin, Vitaliya Kononova: Is My Dog “Playing” Tablet Games? Exploring Human Perceptions of Dog-Tablet Interactions. In: ACM SIGCHI Annual Symposium on Computer-Human Interaction in Play (CHI PLAY), Amsterdam, the Netherlands, 2017.
• Anna Zamansky, Dirk van der Linden and Sofya Baskin: Pushing Boundaries of RE: Requirement Elicitation for Non-Human Users. In: Proc. of the 25th IEEE International Requirements Engineering Conference (IEEE RE), RE@Next! track, Lisboa, Portugal, 2017.
• Shaun Lawson, Ben Kirman, Conor Linehan: Power, participation, and the dog internet. interactions, 23(4), 37-41, 2016.
• Shaun Lawson, Ben Kirman, Conor Linehan, Tom Feltwell,, Lisa Hopkins: Problematising upstream technology through speculative design: the case of quantified cats and dogs. In Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2663-2672), 2015.

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