30 August 2016

DIGITAL - Internet of Things for Pets and Pet Owners

There are few things as heartbreaking as a lost pet, a lonely pet, or a sick pet.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is here, and developers are working on technology that will help owners find their lost pets, interact with or care for their pets while they’re at work, and recognize signs of sickness early.

The most noticeable advance in smart technology for animals is wearables.

(voyce.com)
Wearable technology for pets is allowing owners to monitor their pets’ location, health, and behaviour, and it’s a quickly growing market with many opportunities for developers to try something new.

Earlier iterations of IoT for pets included the ongoing Cat Tracking Project, which uses GPS collars to track the movements of pet cats that are allowed to roam, and the Treat and Train, which allowed dog owners to deliver a treat remotely to help train dogs for better behaviour at the door and in the home.

These early ideas have evolved into the new marketplace of both wearable and remote pet tech.

A new San Francisco company, Whistle, hopes to use the information collected by wearable technology to create a social network for dogs (and their owners).

Anicall, a Japanese company, is also tying their wearables to a social network. Anicall collars use Bluetooth, rather than the standard GPS and Wi-Fi, which gives it better battery life (though limits the range). The system promises to help locate lost pets by notifying any nearby Anicall apps when a pet runs away, and also monitors health by tracking heart rate and respiration.

Other wearables such as Voyce and FitBark also help owners track their pet’s health by monitoring heart rate, respiration, and activity levels in addition to the standard GPS location tracking.

Just like human wearables, some of the devices being designed for animals feature a lot of flash.

Disco Dog is a smartphone-controlled, LED-lighted dog vest. The vest can display patterns, or custom scrolling text, and can be set to show an automatic “lost dog” message if the connection to the smartphone is lost.

Some of that flash will require further research. Anicall has a “mood monitoring” feature that promises to help you read your pet’s mind, and it will be interesting to see if their interpretations of behaviour hold up once the research catches up to the tech.

Wearables aren’t the only IoT technology for pets.

Remote devices include camera and microphone systems that allow two-way communication while the pet is at home and the owner is away.

PetCube, which is just finishing up a second Kickstarter campaign, promises to allow owners to check in on pets via two-way camera and microphone and either feed them a treat remotely or engage them in play with a built-in laser toy, and iCPooch allows video chat and remote treat delivery.

The IoT is growing rapidly, with an estimated 38 billion connected devices by 2020, and the range of devices being developed for animals is expanding in multiple directions at once.

More and more, the “internet of animals” is making its way into pet owner’s homes, veterinary offices, farms, zoos, wildlife conservation efforts, and almost every other element of human interaction with animals.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

29 August 2016

HEALTH - Hamilton Cat Tests Positive for Rabies

Hamilton Public Health Services was notified on August 25, 2016 by Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit that a cat that may have originated in a rural area of Ancaster tested positive for rabies.

They are asking anyone who may have lost, abandoned, fed, or came in contact with a grey adult male cat in the area of Alberton, from south of Highway 403 into Brant County, between August 10 and August 20 to contact them.

  • City of Hamilton residents can call 905-546-2489.
  • Brant County residents can call 519-753-4937.

It’s possible the cat is Hamilton’s first case of domestic rabies in over 20 years.

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is conducting tests to determine if this case is related to the raccoon strain of rabies found in the wild animal population in the Hamilton area.

Results of the tests are expected next week.

After more than a decade without raccoon strain rabies, Ontario has seen cases throughout 2016.

To combat the outbreak, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry is planning a large scale aerial baiting operation in late August early September.

They will be distributing 500,000 more rabies vaccine baits by Twin Otter aircraft.

This is in addition to the 900,000 oral vaccine baits that have been distributed by the ministry in southern Ontario since December 2015 when the first case of raccoon rabies was confirmed.

As of August 23rd, 170 cases of raccoon strain rabies and 2 cases of fox strain rabies have been found in the province.

Raccoon strain rabies by area:
Hamilton 150
Haldimand 10
Niagara 5
Brant 5

In these cases, rabies was found in 118 raccoons and 52 skunks.


Hamilton Public Health is encouraging residents to:
  • Always keep a safe distance from wild and unknown animals. Rabies can make animals aggressive or it can make them appear sick, scared, or friendly.
  • Avoid contact with live or dead animals including raccoons, skunks, other land animals and bats, and unknown dogs and cats. Do not feed, help, or relocate any wildlife or keep them as pets.
  • Keep your pets supervised.
  • Vaccinate your pets against rabies, and keep rabies vaccinations current for dogs and cats to protect them, and prevent any spread to people. Visit their website for information on low cost rabies vaccine clinics.
  • Report animal bites and scratches to public health by calling 905-546-2489. Wash wounds with soap and water and seek medical attention.
  • If you see sick, injured or strange behaving wildlife report it to City of Hamilton Animal Services 905-546-2489.











28 August 2016

BUSINESS - Uber Takes Another Innovative Leap

Uber has already changed the way people get around urban areas, and the company has jumped with both feet into technological and economic shifts. Uber is at the forefront of the sharing economy, and uses leading edge software and technology as part of their business model.

The sharing economy is controversial, and with for-profit companies shifting the focus of the model towards an exchange of money for services it’s questionable whether the term “sharing” even applies.

Alternative phrasing includes “on-demand economy” or “gig economy” and for Uber drivers, Air BnB owners, or Fiverr service providers, these terms make more sense than “sharing,” which comes out of initiatives like Wikipedia, where knowledge is shared freely, and Freecycle, where goods are also shared freely.

Whether it’s called the sharing economy, the gig economy, or the on-demand economy, the fact is that this economic model is challenging existing businesses like taxis and hotels, and it taps into the Internet of Things in a big way.

By relying on connected devices to allow peer-to-peer communication and app-based transactions, this new economic model makes accessing services easier and quicker than before.

Uber uses a network of smart devices, including GPS tracking, to connect drivers and passengers as efficiently as possible.

Youngme Moon, a researcher at Harvard Business School suggests that Uber’s point-to-point transportation system and sophisticated software represent a “disruptive innovation” that already has, and will continue to, change the way people move around urban areas.

The next Uber innovation is self-driving cars. The company has announced the launch of their first fleet of 100 self-driving modified Volvo XC90s in Pittsburgh.

Customers can summon a car as usual, and it might show up without a driver. If it does, the ride will be free.

Each of the self-driving cars will be staffed by two trained engineers who can take over if required, and the trunk will be full of monitoring equipment to report back about how the cars are performing.

The complex interaction between devices, collecting and sharing data, is the Internet of Things in action, and Uber is fully engaged.

Uber has been ahead of regulatory bodies since its inception, leaving cities scrambling to figure out how to regulate the business, and this move is another instance of Uber pushing the economy in directions that regulators aren’t prepared for.

Tesla has already highlighted this regulatory grey area with their “autopilot” feature, available on some Model S cars. The move towards self-driving cars will present significant challenges for regulators, insurers, and other industries.

This is also a significant change to Uber’s business model, and shifts them away from the low overhead and minimal infrastructure of driver-owned vehicles to something that is much more infrastructure-heavy. However, CEO Travis Kalanick places a premium on being at the forefront of industry evolutions.

As smart cities move more and more into automation, Uber wants to be at the edge of that change.

They’ve already outpaced Google’s self-driving car efforts, and with their purchase of the startup Otto, have the potential to move into long-distance trucking as another income stream, or simply adapt the technology to their fleet of cars.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

27 August 2016

DIGITAL - Pokémon GO Helps Kids with Autism

Pokémon GO may be a lot more than just a fun distraction for kids on the autism spectrum.

It has the potential to offer kids social engagement, outdoor activity, and a game that plays to their strengths while also providing developmental opportunities.

Pokémon GO, which gets players out of the house in their efforts to hatch eggs, visit Poké stops and gyms, and “catch ‘em all,” also has the potential to get autistic kids socializing and engaging in ways that they might otherwise struggle with or avoid.

Kids on the autism spectrum enjoy and benefit from screen-based media, including video games.

Although there has been controversy over how video games might contribute to anti-social behaviour in kids, parents of kids on the autism spectrum tend to support, rather than discourage, their kids’ interest in video games. Multiple studies have found that video games, particularly storytelling games, can contribute to positive social behaviour in kids on the autism spectrum.

Daniel Bormann of the University of Freiburg, the lead researcher in a 2015 study, said in a press release that video games hook into general principles of human motivation, and that “successful game franchises offer meaningful choices to shape the game's narrative and environment, provide carefully balanced challenges, or encourage players to experience social connectedness and meaningful social interactions.”

Pokémon GO takes these positive effects and amplifies them by bringing kids out of the house and giving them a ready-made social setting when they come across other players.

Intense focus and enthusiastic excitement are common features of kids on the autism spectrum, and can draw negative attention from their neurotypical counterparts. This can make socializing difficult, and is one of the barriers to neurodivergent kids successfully engaging with their peers.  

One parent, Lenore Koppelman, told CNN, “The kids are so fixated on catching Pokemon that they are concentrating on finding them more than they are concentrating on his behaviors like they usually do.”

Not only does Pokémon GO provide a shared focus for neurotypical kids and kids on the autism spectrum, it also allows autistic kids to shine by highlighting their strengths.

Kids on the autism spectrum tend to be great at memorizing facts and learning the details of an interest, and Pokémon GO rewards their focus. This shouldn’t be surprising, since Satoshi Tajiri, the creator of the Pokémon franchise, is rumoured to have Asperger syndrome. The game was developed out of Tajiri’s love of bug collecting.

Kids with autism are not the only neurodivergent people seeing benefits from Pokémon GO.

Players with depression and anxiety have also reported that the game is helping them, even beyond the positive effects already associated with some video games.

So Pokémon GO and other video games can be included with options like animal assisted and more traditional therapy that have a positive impact on personal well-being.

Parents can learn more by downloading the Parents’ Guide to Pokémon GO.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.