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Animal-Computer Interaction

Interactive technology specifically targeted to nonhuman animals has been in existence for the best part of a century, ranging from biotelemetry devices fitted on free-living bears during conservation studies, to operant interfaces used to train laboratory pigeons in behavioural experiments, and robotic milking systems for farm cows aiming to increase the efficiency of automated agricultural processes. At the same time, for decades, dogs have been trained to operate human interfaces such as light switches or washing machines to carry out tasks on behalf of their assisted human companions. Moreover, in recent years, a host of computing-enabled devices such as tracking collars or teleconferencing systems have appeared on the pet market promising owners to help them to better care for and communicate with their cats and dogs.

But what role have animals played in such technological developments? To what extent do these developments reflect the perspective of the animals in question? To what extent have the animals’ individual and collective characteristics and requirements informed the design of technologies they find themselves interacting with? To what extent have they shaped the processes through which such technologies are developed? How does the interaction with these technologies influence the animals’ capabilities, activities, experience and welfare?

The field of Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI) addresses this kind of questions. In particular, the OU’s ACI research programme aims to:

  • Investigate the interaction between animals and computing technology within the contexts in which animals habitually live.
  • Design animal-centred technology to: a) improve animals’ life quality or expectancy, by facilitating the fulfilment of their physiological and psychological needs; b) support animals in their activities and functions, by minimising any negative effects and maximising any positive effects on their life expectancy and quality; c) foster intra-species and inter-species relations by enabling communication and promoting understanding between parties.
  • Develop animal-centred approaches, including theories and methods, to inform the design of technology intended for animals, regarding them as legitimate stakeholders and design contributors throughout the design process and beyond.

Doctoral projects might focus on a particular domain (e.g. companion, zoo, farm, laboratory animals), technology (e.g. wearable, ambient applications) and problem (e.g. welfare, communication) through which to explore issues (e.g. theoretical, methodological, ethical) relevant to the development of ACI as a discipline.

If you would like to do a PhD in ACI, please get in touch with Dr. Clara Mancini ( to discuss your research proposal.


Required Skills

Ideally you will be familiar with qualitative and quantitative methods of research. Knowledge of the interaction design process and prototyping skills would be highly advantageous; alternatively, you will have a keen willingness to develop these as required to conduct the proposed research. You will have knowledge of the domain in which you want to conduct the research or the ability to quickly develop such knowledge to the required extent.  


Background Reading

On the ACI Lab’s site ( you can find useful information about the Lab’s research programme and projects, along with a list of publications. Particularly relevant readings include:

Mancini, C., Lawson, S., Juhlin, O. (2016). Animal-Computer Interaction: the Emergence of a DisciplineInternational Journal of Human Computer Studies, IJHCS, Vol. 98, Feb 2017, pp. 129-134.

Mancini, C. (2016). Towards an Animal-Centred Ethics for Animal-Computer InteractionInternational Journal of Human Computer Studies, IJHCS, Vol. 98, Feb 2017, pp. 221-233.

Mancini, C. (2013). Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI): Changing Perspective on HCI, Participation and SustainabilityProc. International ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI’13 EA, ACM Press, pp. 2227-2236.

Mancini, C. (2011). Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI): a ManifestoACM Interactions, Vol. 18, Issue 4, pp. 69-73.


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