With communications technologies advancing at a rapid rate and falling in price, innovative companies are adapting them to monitor the location and wellbeing of pets. With dogs and cats increasingly being humanised, the pet obesity problem worsening and pet healthcare costs spiralling, such products are likely to find a ready market among affluent pet owners.
Smartphones drive a data revolution
Much media coverage has been devoted to “the quantified self” recently. This involves tracking metrics about oneself over a period of time in order to facilitate self-improvement. Writing in The Guardian newspaper, Chris Hollindale discussed his use of this technology: “I currently use the ElectricSleep app to track my sleep, a Withings scale to track my weight, a Nike+ FuelBand to track my steps and football sessions, Runkeeper to track the runs I go for and MyFitnessPal to track my food consumption, as well as a few others”.
Similar technologies are being developed with pets in mind. These include computerised feeders that regulate when and how much a pet is fed, pedometers to track how much they are moving and global positioning system (GPS) technology to keep track of them.
The big brother pet feeder
Many of these products are being developed by Japanese companies. For example, the Remoca is a pet bowl with a built-in webcam that is connected to the internet via Wi-Fi. This also
allows owners to talk to their pet remotely and to open a couple of snack trays using a PC, smartphone or tablet computer. Costing ¥39,900 (US$4,390), it can potentially provide a pet owner with live video of their pet from anywhere in the world.
With the number of single-person households surging in countries from China to the US and long working hours keeping many away from home for long stretches, such a product
could appeal to consumers worried about their pets being left on their own and help them feel more connected to them.
Mimicking the call of the wild
Motorised pet feeders can also play a role in tackling pet obesity by moderating their calorific intake. Japanese company Aikiou (pronounced IQ) has designed a series of feeders that
make dogs “slow down and use their brains and paws to eat” by mimicking the actions involved in hunting and foraging. According to the company, “This will help them slow down their food ingestion, thus reducing the risks of having digestive problems”.
You can run but you can’t hide
In recent years, GPS devices have become an increasingly popular way to track lost pets. GPS systems like Loc8tor are easily attached to a pet’s collar. According to one review of the
product on Amazon.com, “We bought this item to track our cat when she wanders or hides. We've been using it for a few months now and it has worked perfectly every time. The remote unit is easy to use and quickly leads us to her. It's a great solution for when our cat decides to go AWOL. We got a second cat, so I'm buying a second collar transmitter (the remote can handle up to four)”.
She added, “The range is reasonable, probably a couple of acres in an open environment like a field or about an acre in a place where houses and concrete foundations are blocking the
signal. When we don't get a signal immediately, walking in increasingly larger circles (with our house at the centre) quickly gives us a signal to follow and she is found in a matter of minutes”. Pricing starts at US$99.
Although some reviewers complained about the quality of the product and its short battery life, out of 88 reviews, 43 gave it five stars and 19 four stars (almost three quarters of the total), suggesting the consensus opinion is highly favourable. Another reviewer wrote, “Our cat now recognises the beeping of the collar as a sign that we're looking for her and when she hears it she'll give up and come out of her hiding place, or come running across the lawn toward us! So often we don't even have to step out to find her; as soon as we activate the tracking function
on the remote, she comes to us”.
NFC enables good Samaritans to use their smartphone to identify a lost pet
Smartphones are now taking this technology to the next level. In April 2013, PetHub Inc launched what it has dubbed “the next generation of its industry-leading pet identification tags”. These contain an NFC (near field communication) chip embedded in a pet ID tag that is intended “to help good Samaritans immediately identify and return lost pets”. NFC is a short-range wireless communication technology based on RFID (radio frequency identification) that enables mobile devices to connect and transfer data when they touch or are in close proximity.
Each tag has a unique QR code and internet address, as well as a freephone number. The company claims that “Any of these four capabilities (NFC, QR code, web address or phone number) can be used to immediately and safely access a pet's critical data, including multiple emergency contact phone numbers, critical medications, licence and rabies tag information, microchip number, vaccinations, pet medical insurance status”. According to PetHub founder and CEO Tom Arnold, “Our tags provide a lifeline to anyone with a phone to an animal's critical data to keep it safe”.
Remote monitoring of pet activity levels and wellbeing
Japanese electronics manufacturer Fujitsu has launched the Wandant dog pedometer. When attached to a dog’s collar, this small device connects wirelessly to the owner’s PC or smartphone, enabling the state of the dog’s health to be monitored in real time. Owners can see the number of steps a dog has taken, as well as its neck temperature and other health indicators, such as shivering motions, which are indicative of stress levels. “The data are presented graphically on a custom website that makes trends in the dog’s activities easy to understand at a glance,” according to the company.
Meanwhile, Sony is now marketing a dog-mounted camera harness called AKA-DM1. Costing around US$50, the company claims it will fit onto any dog heavier than 15kg and between
50-80cm in size. This product was launched in Japan during April 2013. It is intended to be used with Sony’s new line of rugged “action” cameras. This range of cameras includes the Wi-Fi enabled HDR-AS15, which weighs just 90g. In theory, combining these two products would enable a distant owner to monitor their dog in real time, as long the camera has access to an internet connection.
Smartphone ubiquity a growth opportunity
According to Washington, DC-based think tank the Pew Research Centre, almost half (45%) of adults in the US had a smartphone as of September 2012, with this figure rising to 66% among
those aged between 18 and 29 years and 68% among those living in households with an income of at least US$75,000. Similar patterns are evident in many other developed markets, and with entry-level smartphones now retailing for less than US$100, it will probably not be long before there are more smartphones than people in the world. 468 million smartphones were sold worldwide during 2011, with this figure predicted to reach 668 million in 2012.
With smartphones set to become ubiquitous over the medium term, the market for pet care products that utilise the capabilities of this technology is set to expand rapidly, providing a boost
to the other pet products market, which was worth US$12.2 billion worldwide in 2012.