A few years ago we may have had to choose between great tech and spending money on our pets. Thankfully those dark days are over; here in 2014 there are some incredibly smart pet-related tech gadgets that are set to transform our dog- and cat-owning lives.
Here are our picks for 5 of the best.
No, it’s not a derivative of PayPal that lets you remotely send Frodo money for squeaky toys. Instead PetPal is an intriguing Indiegogo project from Ken Powers, an electrical engineer who previously worked on test systems for the F16, along with designing launch software for spacecrafts. Resembling R2-D2, the friendly droid from Star Wars, PetPal is a durable automatic Wi-Fi pet feeder for the digital age–equipped with a built-in night vision camera, microphone, speaker, computer, and patented feeding mechanism.
“My idea was to let you connect with your pet from anywhere in the world over your wireless device,” says Powers. “Using your smartphone or tablet you can look at your pet, listen to it, talk to it–and of course feed it.”
The impetus for the project came when Powers began feeding some stray cats which came to his garden. When he had to go overseas, he decided to create a device that would allow him to continue carrying out his food-providing duties–even though he was not physically in the country at the time.
Jump forward several prototypes and Powers’ homemade pet feeder is now an Indiegogo project seeking $20,000 for a device that will ship in January next year.
“I’ve been watching the smart-pet space for a while now, and it’s definitely an exciting one,” Powers says. “I think people are just starting to realize the possibilities that are out there.”
Creating a smart pet product isn’t necessarily the first thing you think of when consider jobs for cognitive science and neuroscience PhDs. Try telling that to the founders of CleverPet, who have created a $279 games console for dogs designed to keep pets mentally engaged when their owners are out and about. Featuring three sensitive touch pads–each of which can light up interactively when touched with a nose or paw–the device asks pets to hit the pads in a certain order, at which point it releases food.
Using learning algorithms it’s even possible for the games to be made harder or easier depending on the responses it receives.
“I’ve been working on training animals using computers for around 12 years now,” says cofounder Dan Knudsen. “I’ve been studying how animals learn and interact with technology. This was a great opportunity to put some of that research into action.”
As Knudsen points out, interacting with animals in an intelligent way is something we have been doing for the best part of one century, dating back to the classical conditioning of the Pavlov’s dogs experiment–in which the pairing of stimuli (the sound of a bell and some food) can create conditioned responses.
“We’re taking that idea one step further,” Knudsen says. “Instead of classical conditioning, we’re looking at operant conditioning, in which the animal has to do something to get the reward. Owners shouldn’t just be concerned with the physical health of their pets–there’s mental health to consider also.”
Boasting a built-in laser, sound system, and wireless wide angle camera setup, Petcube’s description makes it sound more like an advanced security system, or the the sinister creation of a James Bond villain, than a connected petcessory. However, that didn’t stop it from smashing its Kickstarter fundraising goal late last year; earning $251,225 against a goal of $100K.
Like PetPal, Petcube allows owners to keep visual tabs on their dog or cat wherever they are in the world, although it also adopts the CleverPet concept of keeping your pet entertained while you are away. For Petcube, this means a laser pointer that you can use to send your animal careening around the living room.
“On your video screen, you can see exactly what is happening at home, or wherever you have the camera set up,” creator Yaroslav Azhnyuk says. “You then swipe your finger over the screen and the laser follows wherever you point. It’s a great way of keeping your pet engaged.”
Petcube starts shipping to backers on Monday, and will be available to purchase starting in November.
There are, of course, times when being able to keep tabs on your pet is about far more than just giving them a handy midday feed, or remotely playing with them while you’re on your lunch break. There are relatively few gadgets out there which could conceivably save lives but the Tagg Pet Tracker is certainly one of them.
A smart GPS attachment for your pet’s collar, the device will send you text messages, push notifications, or emails if your dog (or other pet) journeys beyond your designated boundaries. You can then view your animal’s location on an interactive map that you can access using either your smartphone, tablet, or computer–with the device leading you directly to your pet’s location.
The device itself costs $99.95, but for anyone who’s ever spent hours trudging in the rain unsure of whether or not they’re going to see poor old Fido or Rover again, it’s a way of making a purely reactive situation into a proactive one.
If that wasn’t enough, the Tagg Pet Tracker additionally functions like a canine Jawbone UP or Fitbit by tracking your pet’s movement using a built-in accelerometer. As a result, you can see how many steps your dog has taken, how far it’s walked, and the overall intensity and duration of activities. The results are not only interesting from a “quantified self” perspective, but may also have life-saving capabilities–allowing you to spot changes or trends in your pet’s activity that you can then discuss with a vet.
PAWSE isn’t a “smart” technology in the Wi-Fi-enabled way that others on this list are, but it’s certainly a smart piece of hardware in the classic sense. Essentially its a short leash stored in a tiny clip-on device on your dog’s collar.
“It’s not invented to replace the dog leash entirely, but rather to give you a mid-ground between having your dog on and off leash,” says creator Matt Libby, who is currently in the middle of a Kickstarter drive for the device. “If you’re walking with your dog on a trail and you see a rattlesnake or some other reason you’d need to have your dog on a leash, you simply extend the device attached to its collar.”
Its compactness and lightweight nature make it an appealing option, but PAWSE has also solved a number of engineering issues–from how to make a retractor that can be repeatedly extended fully without breaking, to being a thin leash that is still strong enough to pull a car (or so is demonstrated in the Kickstarter video).
“I’ve been blown away by just how exciting the pet space is,” Libby says. “Whether you’re a consumer, an entrepreneur, or just an animal lover, I don’t think there’s been a better time to work in this field.”