PhD Thesis

Towards Intelligent Playful Environments for Animals based on Natural User Interfaces


Patricia Pons


Supervised by:

Dr. Javier Jaen


The study of animals’ interactions with technology and the development of animal-centered technological systems is gaining attention since the emergence of the research area of Animal Computer Interaction (ACI). ACI aims to improve animals’ welfare and wellbeing in several scenarios by developing suitable technology for the animal following an animal-centered approach. Among all the research lines ACI is exploring, there has been significant interest in animals’ playful interactions with technology. Technologically mediated playful activities have the potential to provide mental and physical stimulation for animals in different environmental contexts, which could in turn help to improve their wellbeing.

As we embark in the era of the Internet of Things, current technological playful activities for animals have not yet explored the development of pervasive solutions that could provide animals with more adaptation to their preferences as well as offering varied technological stimuli. Instead, playful technology for animals is usually based on digital interactions rather than exploring tangible devices or augmenting the interactions with different stimuli. In addition, these playful activities are already predefined and do not change over time, while they require that a human has to be the one providing the device or technology to the animal. If humans could focus more on their participation as active players of an interactive system aimed for animals instead of being concerned about holding a device for the animal or keep the system running, this might help to create stronger bonds between species and foster better relationships with animals. Moreover, animals’ mental and physical stimulation are important aspects that could be fostered if the playful systems designed for animals could offer a varied range of outputs, be tailored to the animal’s behaviors and prevented the animal to get used to the system and lose interest.

Therefore, this thesis proposes the design and development of technological playful environments based on Natural User Interfaces that could adapt and react to the animals’ natural interactions. These pervasive scenarios would allow animals to play by themselves or with a human, providing more engaging and dynamic playful activities that are capable of adapting over time.


This PhD thesis was defended on October 17th, 2018 and was awarded with the qualifications of Cum Laude and an International Doctorate mention.

The thesis manuscript is available here.