facial recognition is now being used to identify dogs and help fight the spread of rabies

dog standing in front of phone displaying app using facial recognition

Rabies isn’t something we consider a huge problem In North America but in other parts of the world it’s much more cause for concern.

A team of researchers at Washington State University, jointly developed an app using facial recognition in dogs to test its effectiveness at a rabies vaccination clinic in rural Tanzania where they microchipped, vaccinated and registered dogs.

Example of app using facial recognition to track vaccinated dogs

Led by researchers at Washington State University, a 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% of vaccinated dogs and 98.9% of unvaccinated dogs.

“Because domestic dogs are the main reservoir for human rabies, controlling human rabies globally requires the mass vaccination of dogs,” WSU Associate Professor Felix Lankester, the principal investigator of the study, said.

“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. 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.”

Rabies kills an estimated 60,000 people annually. Nearly all cases occur in Africa and Asia, and more than 99% are the result of dog bites. Systematic and consistent vaccination efforts, like those led by WSU’s Rabies Free Africa program, are effective at controlling the disease, but approximately 40% of dogs in an area must be vaccinated at any one time to achieve herd immunity and prevent sustained virus transmission. This makes the ability to accurately and efficiently identify vaccinated dogs vital for successful rabies elimination programs.

The App itself

The facial recognition algorithm used within the application, developed in collaboration with PiP My Pet, a company located in Vancouver, Canada, and researchers in WSU’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Health, 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, color and sex, being properly recorded. Before poor quality images and incorrect information were removed from the database, users were only able to match 65% of the vaccinated dogs.

Lankester, who also serves as a director of Rabies Free Africa, 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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