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Sam Asano's Let's Invent: Dogs create a 'problem' people are reluctant to handle

April 21. 2014 12:01AM

One of the traits we 99 percent inventors have is to avoid working on problems that are either dirty, unsanitary, noisy, physically large and dangerous — namely unpopular.

However, have you ever heard of garbage collection services going out of business? Clean and neat problems are tackled by many inventors, while unpopular problems go untackled and unsolved.

Back about 130,000 years ago, dogs introduced themselves to humans as a "new and improved" model based on the standard production platform of wolves. They were indeed physically identical to wolves, except that their behavior was friendlier, and they were eager to form a close cooperative symbiosis with us. The moment they showed up, they were an instant hit among us humans. We love them and they love us in return.

Today, their popularity continues to thrive and grow. The dog population now exceeds 100 million, and the pet food providers have revenue in excess of $35 billion per year. Yes, one dog per every three persons, and their food alone costs us $113 per year per dog.

Dogs are cute, obey your commands (yes some do), faithful to owners and all those good things. But there is one problem they bring to us. That is their poop. They produce their poop regularly (give or take) a few times a day. We owners are supposed to pick them up and dispose correctly. But not all owners do this. There lies the problem that needs a good solution.


I live in the small village along the seashore with some beach area. The other day when I was taking a walk with my golden retriever, one of the three selectmen of the town stopped me. He requested that I send out the all-points bulletin to all the dog owners of this village (or all of those I have emails to) and request in no uncertain terms that dog owners MUST pick up their dog waste without fail.

He told me that the public works employees had found several poops abandoned. Some of them were bare poops and some were in the plastic bag but left on the ground. He and I agreed that people who place poops in the plastic bag and leave on the ground cause much worse problems than just bare poops on the ground. I said I would relay that warning to the dog owners of the town.

Now, readers may be wondering why I am the guy who needs to tell dog owners through emails. A few years ago I orchestrated a petition to the town to open the beach areas to leashed dogs even during the summer period under certain conditions, and we have succeeded to have the town grant the request. After that anytime there is some issues, good or bad, about dogs, I get calls regardless.

With 100 million dogs pooping a few times a day in this country, this is a rather large problem that needs a solution. First of all, nobody likes to deal with this issue because it is dirty, unglamorous, hard to handle. One often has to carry the filled plastic bag for a long distance. Many people often don't carry a plastic poop bag. If nobody is watching, they just leave the poop there. It will eventually dissipate by nature. That's what they think.

One of the abstract and indirect educational solutions is to put up signs all over the town, and make dog owners be aware the penalty of unattended poops. However, unless policemen are deployed on the beach and street corners, this works only somewhat. It works well for the residents of the town, but not to the tourists, who don't plan to return.

I have thought about imbedding a transponder chip on each plastic bag, so the bag will announce its whereabouts when hit by the query beam. This will make discovery easier, but it wouldn't stop outlaws from violating. I did hear about one town in Germany, which wanted to collect each dog's DNA to identify the real source. I do not know if that was put into practice.

The last and the most intricate is a poop vacuum cleaner. There are several models available in the market place, but none would produce what I call a perfect solution. These inventions would solve the poop pickup problem, and create the problem of having to clean the vacuum cleaner, which is a more intricate and dirtier job.

As a system involving a large municipality, there is one striking solution that I know of and have seen work rather well. It is in Paris, France. Paris has a large population of small dogs, which are allowed to enter restaurants and sit with the owners at the tables. All dogs, so far I have observed, are gentle and friendly. And the city allows them to poop on the street anywhere and anytime.

In the early morning hours, a fleet of specially outfitted scooters (FIG 1~2) driven by the city's public work employees systematically drive on the pedestrian walkways, and a powerful vacuum cleaner aboard the scooter picks up the poop. The nozzle is controlled by the driver, who skillfully finds and vacuums the poop in. The streets are clean again before people start their day's walk to work.

One interesting aspect of the poop sweep system of Paris is that the labor union consisting of the poop vacuum drivers are the most feared union of all. Railroads strike, garbage collectors strike, and people persevere up to some weeks in the massive traffic jams and/or huge pile of garbage on the streets. But, that's nothing. If and when the poop scooter union even mentions it might be looking into a strike, the city instantly capitulates.

People of Paris wouldn't tolerate the poop filled streets not even one day. The union gets what it wants. The Motocrotte System, it was called, was originated by Mayor Jacques Chirac in 1982, and was discontinued in 2002 as ineffective. Today, a strong movement is calling for its resurrection. Different country, different solution.

Shintaro "Sam" Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at

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