We all love our pets. However, looking after them is almost a full-time job.
It’s not all walks in the parks and fluffy cuddles.
There are veterinary check-ups to remember, a diet to watch, their health to monitor, and the list goes on and on.
So it’s no surprise that pet lovers are increasingly turning towards pet technology to keep close with their furry friends. After all, we can access everything from our friends to our bank accounts with just a few taps on our phone, so why not our pets as well?
It's relatively easy to connect ourselves to the Internet of Things. We're happy to tap away at our phones, and understand what it means when our smart watch starts buzzing.
However, designing compact wearables for anyone, even humans, isn’t easy. Beloved technology corporation Apple hasn’t been able to crack it yet. Pets are significantly smaller and unable to properly communicate with us, making the challenge even greater.
Now that we have cracked it, and built pet activity trackers and pet health monitors small enough and lightweight enough for our cats and dogs, we thought we'd explain why it's harder to create them for pets than it is for humans.
Problem number 1: Size
“Can’t you put the GPS in the microchip and implant it?”.
A surprisingly common question that we heard during research, with a simple answer -
The RFDI implant in your pet is about the size of a large grain of rice, and is a relatively simple device. In order to make it so small, it can’t contain a battery. Instead, it gets its power from the tag reader in a similar way to wireless charging.
Therefore, the device is unable to do anything when not next to a tag reading device. This makes adding GPS pointless – it requires power and if the pet is near a reader then it is not lost!
Additionally, a GPS module is relatively ginormous and power hungry. It is also necessary to add in GPRS as well (that's mobile data – this gets the dogs location from your GPS module and sends it to your mobile phone).
Smart pet collars that have this feature are very large, and while they may be suitable for a working dog like a Border Collie, a King Charles Spaniel is going to end up walking round in circles (or with a very sore neck).
Problem Number 2: Communication
Most owners know what is going on with their pet.
They can tell if they are happy about their new play toy, whether they are distressed at going to the vets, or if they're tired after a long walk.
This is great when someone is around, but your dog or cat can’t tell you how they were while left alone – the house may have been too cold or the dog walker might have spent the entire time at a café.
Detecting these issues has to be done in a passive way, as we still haven’t been able to train our pets to tap a screen or talk to Siri. Taking the movements of the collar and turning that into a set of actions is possible, but requires a lot of data, processing and clever models.
problem number 3: Sensitivity and different breeds
Our sensors also need to be incredibly sensitive to detect the subtle differences in types of movement. And it takes a lot of time to create suitable algorithms that will work on cats, Chihuahuas, Bulldogs and Great Danes.
And then when we break it down even further, owners want to monitor every aspect of their pets life. From puppy and kittenhood all the way through to the golden years. This means that our sensors and data analysis need to be able to understand the difference between wobbly puppy steps, and an elderly cats stalk.
When your cat hurts its foot from a miscalculated jump it can't 'tell' the system this is why it's limping. So wearables for pets need to consider incidents like this too. If owners were told to go the vets everytime something unusual happened, well, they wouldn't be very happy.
Connecting pets to the IoT is complex and difficult. But that just makes the challenge all the more fun. At Felcana we think we've cracked it ... for now at least. We've made sensitive, small enough devices, that subtley monitor your cat or dog. We're engineers though, we're not going to stop there. We're committed to building the best connected devices for pets available, anywhere.