In search of ponies: Gadgets not limited to human

It was around the 14th century or so when some anonymous irreverent farmer took a highly prized religious implement and hung it from the neck of his best sheep — and thus the precious bell was transferred down from the upper echelons of the priesthood, literally to the herd.

No doubt that must have ruffled some robes at the time, but it just goes to show no one escapes progress, not even members of the animal world.

In fact, it seems just like keeping track of the sheep all those years ago, one of the first areas ingenuity gets channeled is toward animals and when humans have technology coming out their ears, we end up with things like texting cows.

Yep, it took about 700 years since the first cowbell was donned, but now the herder doesn't even have to be within earshot to know what his or her cows are doing.

Passing Wii technology from the hands of children to the necks of cattle, a newly developed collar records a cow's movements and activity patterns and sends texts to farmers letting them know when their cows are in distress, in labor or even ready to breed.

Not quite as communicative but practical none the less, a UK developer has introduced a pet collar that can be read with a smart phone bar code scanner app, giving the pet owner the ability to program a unique, "Return my dog," message.

Shh…. Did you hear that? It was a sigh of relief from cattle 'round the world as they wait anxiously for the test tube T-bone to mature.

While the stem cell based beef grows in a Netherlands petri dish — apparently it takes a long time, its muscles also have to be "exercised" with electric current and they're still working to give it palatable color — "Invitro-meat" developers are coming up ceramic faux bones to complete the presentation.

Researchers hope to carve out a first bite this summer with the goal their lab-made meat will eventually eliminate animal farming.

And if you thought it was bad when you saw your kids' multi-hundred dollar techno-Christmas lists this year, just wait till Fido puts in his gadget order.

Oh no, don't laugh just yet … You may be surprised to know that dogs have been using touch screens longer than most of us.

In 2007, Austrian researchers taught dogs to navigate classification and matching drills using touch screen computers, about three years or so before you downloaded your first app.

One-upping the dogs, for months, orangutans at a Milwaukee zoo have been playing iPad games through the bars of their cages, while in Toronto another group of orangutans aren't just using iPads, they're also Skyping family members in nearby enclosures and will eventually be part of a nationwide orangutan Skype network.

No doubt the day will come where members of the public get added to their contact lists.

In fact, if current talks are any indication, the zoo of your childhood is nothing like the ones your grandchildren will visit.

It seems like cloning extinct animals is almost a foregone conclusion for the future of zoos — though the experts believe only those made extinct by mankind should be brought back, well, with the except of the irresistible woolly mammoth that is, simply because the DNA samples are so pristine.

But future zoo visitors will also get to interact, using brainwave reading devices to communicate with dolphins or wolves, according to ideas tossed around by zoo professionals during a conference earlier this month.

Without a doubt, whether we impose technology on them, do it for them or simply share it with them, animals are right there with us, benefitting and sometimes even adapting to the modern world.

Who knows, before long the family dog may be even better at programing the remote control than the 3-year-old in the house, and if the technology curve holds true, they'll both be better at it than us.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: insearchofponies@gmail.com or on the web at: www.insearchofponies.blogspot.com

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