Meet Wiggle. She’s Helping a UT Dallas Team Develop a Treat-Dispensing Agility Course for Home-Alone Dogs

Working in UT Dallas' UTDesign Capstone program, the student team is developing an automated agility course that motivates pets to stop their lazy sofa-surfing and jump around to earn treats. The team had to tweak their design when Wiggle—their "chief beta tester"—figured out how to snag free Cheez-Its with her nose.

If you have a pet, you may worry when you’re gone all day. Is that good boy lazing on the sofa for 12 hours straight? Is that sweet girl curled up in a ball, with no physical activity at all? A team of UT Dallas engineering students has worked up a solution—and a dog named Wiggle is the “chief beta tester.”

The six-student team is developing an “automated, treat-dispensing agility course,” aiming to motivate pets to get exercise when they’re home alone. 

Working as Team 1519 in UT Dallas’ UTDesign Capstone program, the students secured a sponsorship from Alexandra Smith, founder and CEO of Canine Innovation, who volunteered her 2-year-old white poodle Wiggle to be a key team member.

Wiggle likes hot dogs and Cheez-Its—and she’s happy to jump for them

Alexandra Smith (center), founder and CEO of Canine Innovation, sponsored the UTDesign Capstone team. Her 2-year-old poodle, Wiggle, served as chief beta tester. From left are electrical engineering senior Alexander Wessenberg and teammates who graduated in December: Nguyen Bui BS’22, Patrick Attey BS’22, and Britanny Hernandez BS’22. [Photo: UT Dallas]

The agility course features white hurdles with sensors that are able to measure the height of a pet’s jump and activate an electronic treat dispenser. That’s fine by WIggle, who has a thing for hot dogs and Cheez-Its—and hey, who doesn’t?

“The obstacle course was invented with Wiggle in mind,” student Britanny Hernandez said in a statement. Hernandez, who graduated in December, served as the team’s electrical and computer engineering leader.

Wiggle cheated, so the team had to tweak

Hernandez says the team had to tweak the agility course when Wiggle outsmarted it—figuring out she could simply stick her nose over the sensor to snag a treat.

“She’s a particularly intelligent dog and was able to trick a prototype’s sensors to get a treat,” Hernandez said. “So we developed a foolproof method so she couldn’t trick the system again.”

Being connected to UTD was the most helpful thing ever,” Smith said. “It’s been so amazing working with everyone. They’ve been so helpful. It’s crazy how much the students know.”

Smith, the sponsor, is also working with a student marketing team through the Naveen Jindal School of Management’s UTDsolv Capstone Senior Project.

“Being connected to UTD was the most helpful thing ever,” Smith said in the statement. “It’s been so amazing working with everyone. They’ve been so helpful. It’s crazy how much the students know.

Next step: software

While some of the teammates have graduated, the others are continuing to work on the project, and so is Wiggle. This spring, computer science students will join the team to develop software that can allow pet owners to monitor their pets’ activity while they use the course. They better watch out for Wiggle, though—if she can’t nose her way to free Cheez-Its, she may try to hack the system instead.

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