DHS Wants to Outfit Its Dogs With Wearable Tech

A Border Patrol agent uses a dog to inspect vehicles lining up at the Laredo North vehicle checkpoint in Laredo, Texas, Feb. 2.

A Border Patrol agent uses a dog to inspect vehicles lining up at the Laredo North vehicle checkpoint in Laredo, Texas, Feb. 2. Nomaan Merchant/AP

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The agency is investing in a smart harness that would monitor the health of Border Patrol’s K-9 units.

The Homeland Security Department is investing in a data analytics tool that would help ensure the thousands of dogs that work for the agency stay healthy.

The agency’s Science and Technology Directorate on Tuesday announced a roughly $200,000 contract with HaloLights to prototype a sensor-equipped harness that monitors dogs’ heart rate, body temperature and other vitals. In addition to health data, the harness would also track each dog’s GPS location and monitor environmental factors like air temperature and humidity.

The tech would feed that data back to support staff in real-time and alert them to any irregularities, allowing them to keep group’s K-9 units safe and strong in the short- and long-term. 

Customs and Border Protection's K-9 units, which are responsible for sniffing out illegal drugs, firearms, currency and trafficked persons at ports of entry and along the border, often work in tough conditions, according to the agency. By providing a holistic picture of each dog’s health, the company’s C.H.A.M.P. technology would help the department keep its units safe and strong, officials said.

As of 2016, Customs and Border Protection had more than 1,400 K-9 units deployed across the country.

“With the potential risks Customs and Border Protection canine agents face in their daily operations, there is an expressed desire for improved health monitoring tools to ensure their safety,” Don Roberts, who manages the office’s Detection Canine program, said in a statement. “In funding this project, [the Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate] is working to ensure that officer safety, human or canine, is a priority.”

The award was made under the Silicon Valley Innovation Program, an in-house startup incubator that fast-tracks tech with the potential to support national security. Under the contract, HaloLights would work with U.S. Border Patrol agents to beta-test and refine its the platform.

“Ensuring the proactive detection and intervention of health complications will simplify the work [U.S. Border Patrol] does to keep K-9 agents in top shape,” Melissa Oh, the SVIP managing director, said in a statement. HaloLights is currently the only company working under the program’s K-9 Wearable Technologies category, but the agency has funded similar projects in the past.