Caring for our pets with technology

March 9, 2017
by John Websell

The concept of using technology to look after the planet’s wondrous array of animal life is hardly a new concept; after all, scientists have been using electronic tags to study birds, bees and even whales for years now. However, despite this long-standing relationship, it’s only recently, with the advent of the Internet of Things and our increasing obsession with electronic gadgets that manufacturers have realised just how invaluable technology could be when it comes to caring for our pets and improving our proficiency as owners.

Amazon and other online retailers, for instance, offer an ever growing range of electronic collars and cameras that can help you monitor your pet’s location, activity and emotional state, leading experts to predict that the global market for pet technology will reach an incredible $2.3 within the next 5 years.

In the course of our research, it’s true that ABRS has seen many frivolous contraptions that offer little in the way of practical assistance, but there’s plenty of evidence to suggest some may be genuinely useful.

Improving pet care

As of last year, there were a colossal 57 million pets registered in the UK: 8.5 dogs and 7.5 million cats. Yet, disturbingly, approximately 50% of dogs in Britain are obese while 25% are regularly left home alone, indicating that our laissez-faire attitude toward feeding and the exigencies of our daily lives have led to a decline in animal care standards.

To combat this alarming trend, companies like the PitPatPet are working on sophisticated activity trackers that have the ability to collect reams of data on the exercise habits of our pets, providing accurate, up-to-date information which can then be used to aid us in keeping our pets in prime physical condition. In a broader sense, PitPatPet hopes the abundance of statistics derived from the individual users will form the backbone of a vast database that, among other things, offers insights into what makes one particular Labrador healthy and another obese. Elsewhere, the modular design of the Foobler Electronic Timed Treat Dispenser restricts access to treats, saving avaricious cats and dogs from themselves, whilst the electronic timer lets owner’s set food distribution to specific 15-90 minute intervals: not bad for £16.99.

Animal safety is receiving ample attention from manufacturers too, with efforts focused on trackers and high-vis collars in particular. A prime example is the Leuchtie Plus LED Light Dog Collar. Costing just £26.99, it emits a bright light (in one of a range of colours) alerting motorists and other pedestrians to your dog’s presence in low-light environments. In addition, the Leuchtie Plus is 100% waterproof, so it can be used on rainy days.

Other companies are developing more outlandish products in the quest to improve the level of care we’re able to offer, including devices that read an animal’s brainwaves before translating their thoughts into intelligible human speech and gadgets capable of reading your pet’s emotions allowing you to better understand how they’re feeling. The latter reminds me of that episode of the Simpsons where Homer’s brother, Herb, creates a baby-talk translator – but I digress. Contraptions of this nature might sound preposterous, however, according to futurologist Ian Pearson, such technology is entirely possible, even if inter-species communication is still many years away.

Helping owners

Just last month, the RSA announced its plans to invest in PitPatPet; the company responsible for the animal fitness tracker mentioned previously. Why? Because they believe the data collected by the PitPat has the potential to transform the way they calculate pet insurance in much the same way they use real-time driver information to monitor and assess their customers for car cover. More importantly, from the owner’s perspective, once they’ve analysed the data and subsequently updated their pet’s exercise regime accordingly, they can expect to see a reduction in their insurance premiums and vets’ bills. A win-win situation for sure.

Busy individuals who struggle to find the time to take their beloved pooch for regular walks will be pleased to learn there are plenty of contraptions designed specifically to look after pet’s exercise requirements on the owner’s behalf. According to futurologist Ian Pearson, the same gadgets used to track an animal’s location could easily be co-opted to walk dog’s autonomously; products refined enough to follow pre-set paths selected by the owner whilst navigating obstacles and junctions reactively, as they appear. In fact, there are numerous time-saving devices that already exist; albeit ones that aren’t quite so cutting-edge. Take the iFETCH Automatic Ball Launcher. Lasting for 30 hours when fully charged, this nifty little machine is always on hand to play fetch when the owner’s unavailable, launching 3 specially designed balls up to 30ft through the air making, though the distance can be reduced to suit less rambunctious puppies. Moreover, it’s so easy to operate, the average dog is perfectly capable of reloading the iFETCH itself.

The worst thing about owner a cat or dog, however, has to be the waste: enter the Scoopfree Self-Cleaning Litter Box. Every 20 minutes, Earth’s most sophisticated litter tray gathers together any and all recent droppings before disposing of it in the covered compartments attached. At £96.99, it’s not the cheapest solution, but for those that can’t stand picking up their pet’s excrement, it’s a Godsend.

Meanwhile, popularised by programmes such as Horizon’s The Secret Life of the Cat, wearable cameras have become a particular favourite among the country’s animal lovers. Probably the best-known examples are the GoPro Fetch (a harness designed precisely to support a standard GoPro) and the night vision-enabled Eyenimal Cat Videocam, both of which give aims to give owners a pet’s eye view of the world. Still, unless you like uploading humorous animal clips to YouTube in your spare time, I imagine the novelty will wear off pretty quickly.

A bad workman

As pointed out by Brian Koerber in a recent Mashable article, it’s not the devices themselves that are the real issue here; it’s the possibility that the convenience afforded by such technology will convince us to leave the care of our pets to machines, preventing us from forging relationships with our animal friends as we spend less time interacting.

Still, for most of us, the chief joy of owning a pet is bonding with them. So, while Brian’s point certainly applies to the irresponsible people in society, the majority will instead establish deeper bonds with our canine and feline brethren thanks to the new technology.

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