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.

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.

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