Techno-pup: Watching your cats and dogs by remote control

Rocky with his new friend, Petcube, which also keeps the neighbours happier Puppy love: Rocky with his new friend, Petcube, which keeps him occupied - and the neighbours happier

The death of a pet is something you never forget.

Technology of Business

It separates the pet owners, who understand the wrenching pain and sense of loss, from those that live a life without small, loyal, four-legged life companions.

Ben Jacobs is a pet owner.

"It is one of the things that as a dog lover, it really stays with you," he says.

Growing up he had a German Shepherd called Bear.

"Bear passed away when he was only five years old," he remembers.

"It was one of those seemingly sudden issues to our family. He seemed fairly healthy one day, and then all of a sudden Bear had an intestinal issue where his intestines were twisting and sadly we had to put him down."

Dogged determination

That experience stayed with him, leading many years later to the creation of his start-up, Whistle.

Whistle screenshot Status update: The app lets you look in on your pooch wherever you are, and see what they're doing

"Over four in 10 UK households have a dog, here over six in 10 US households have a dog or cat," says Mr Jacobs.

"They are such part of the family, and yet we don't have the information to take good care of them. So my goal was to help people with dogs like Bear try to understand their day-to-day patterns of health, and maybe some long-term trends as well."

Whistle records your dog's movements, and flags up any unusual behaviour that could indicate illness. A small activity tracker containing an accelerometer is attached to the animal's collar, and transmits the data gathered to the company's servers over wi-fi.

This is then analysed, comparing it to your dog's normal behaviour - and a database the start-up is building of typical behaviour. You can also send a full activity report to your vet.

"We can know if your dog went for a walk or played in the park, and you can see that activity in an fun timeline-like format on your mobile phone," he says.

The app means you can follow what your pet is up to when you're not around, as well as add comments and photos to the timeline to share with family members or friends.

Whistle tag Dressing up: The Whistle collar device is being used at the University of Pennsylvania to track sick dogs at their research facility - the data gathered by the tag tells them what the dogs can't

The pet industry is worth over $50bn (£33bn) in the US alone each year, so it's not surprising a growing number of start-ups are targeting the market, especially when you consider the love affair between furry animals and the internet.

There is the eminently useful, like Pintofeed, a remote feeding system controlled using your smartphone. Or New York's Swifto, which lets you book dog walkers online and track your pet's walk using GPS.

There's philanthropic endeavours like iPet Companion - you can play with abandoned cats living in shelters across the US, online.

Cats playing iPet Companion lets you play with cats in shelters in the US from your desktop - and take a photo

And then there's the quirk, like Snapcat, which lets your kitty take selfies - photos of themselves - by themselves.

A dog's life

Many have been inspired by the love their founders have for their pets.

When Alex Neskin and his girlfriend moved to a new apartment in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, their canine roommate Rocky wasn't happy.

The new surroundings didn't suit him. And as he's a very small dog, and his owners have to work, there wasn't a lot he could do about it. Mr Neskin was worried about him.

"He [decided] to hack something with an Arduino, which is like a prototyping board for geeky people. He mounted a camera, connected it to the computer," says Yaroslav Azhnyuk, Mr Neskin's friend and co-founder.

Watching what happened when Rocky was on his own made for grim viewing. He spent his days sitting in front of the door, barking. He was bored and lonely.

Rocky and laser pointer Current occupation: One of Rocky's favourite things to do is chase the light from a laser pointer

Being a programmer with an interest in robots, he decided to improve on his robot by attaching a low-light laser pointer that moved with the camera. He linked it up to a website so that he and his friends could play with Rocky from anywhere in the world.

To the relief of his neighbours, Rocky loved it.

"Everyone was saying: 'Well I want this thing for my dog or for my cat' and that's how an idea to make it a business appeared," says Mr Azhnyuk.

The two friends and their third co-founder Andrey Klen created Petcube, and started to work out how to make their idea a reality.

It launched for pre-order in May, and already 2,000 people have signed up. The plan is to launch a Kickstarter campaign in August to raise the production capital.

Cats playing Long distance relationship: The Petcube app will let you play with your pets - and talk to them - on your smartphone from wherever you are in the world

The device can be accessed from the web or a smartphone app, and the laser has been checked by a vet to make sure it's perfectly safe.

Cubes can be made public, so anyone can play with your four-legged friend.

Start Quote

The grand vision behind this is to make this kind of a social network for pet owners”

End Quote Yaroslav Azhnyuk Petcube

"You can message other people and ask them about different stuff about their pets, what they doing and so on. So the grand vision behind this is to make this kind of a social network for pet owners," says Mr Azhnyuk.

Holiday home

If keeping your pet properly occupied when you're a little farther from home is the problem - a beach in the Philippines for example - then Seattle-based might be for you.

The start-up and its main competitor, DogVacay, let you book pet-sitters online.

The idea is that dogs are happier staying in a home rather than kennels. Rover founder Greg Gottesman had the idea for the service after his golden retriever, Ruby Tuesday, developed health problems after a kennel stay.

Prospective sitters have to go through a rigorous selection process, that now includes background screening.

Grateful dog owners from Austin, Texas reunited with their pooch Home from home: believes that dogs are happier being looked after in a home environment when their owners are away - these Rover owners from Austin, Texas, agree

"To qualify as a sitter, an applicant must have experience with dogs and obviously love them," says the company's Susan Koehler.

"We require that each sitter demonstrate a care plan for Rover dogs, and we look for and highlight advanced skills and affiliations such as medical/vet training, CPR certification and associations with Humane Societies, Pet Rescues and other charitable organisations."

Sitters also have to provide a reference from a reputable third party.

While on holiday owners receive daily photos and updates on their pets, so they know they're being taken care of.

"It's a lot less stressful on the pups because they are in a real home, so it's easier to keep a dog on their general routine for walks, playtime, eating, cuddling on the couch and even sleeping in a bed with the sitter," she says.

Littlest hobo

Next to critical illness, one of the most worrying moments in a pet owner's life is when their small friend decides to go walkabout - alone.

Pethub collar tag and app Tag team: The Pethub tag has a QR code (Quick Response code - or 2D barcode) linked to your pets profile

Pethub started in the US, and now operates in 22 countries. It produces collar tags that have a QR code, website address, phone number and more recently an NFC (near field communication) chip that connects people that find stray pets with their owners.

Start Quote

"In the United States only 5% of pets have microchips and about 58% of those are out of date”

End Quote Lorien Clemens Pethub

By reading the QR code or the NFC chip with a smartphone, a profile for the lost animal is brought up, with a list of emergency contacts. An alert is sent either to you or to Pethub to say that the tag has been scanned, as well as an email with GPS coordinates so you can track Spot down.

"It can help the pet get home before they even get to the shelter to be scanned from microchip," says Pethub's Lorien Clemens.

"In the United States only 5% of pets have microchips and about 58% of those are out of date."

Pethub can also sends details of lost pets to local shelters and vets.

As well as dogs and cats, Pethub has horses, goats and even two "escape artist" tortoises as customers.

"Last year we looked at all of our pet recoveries, and we found that 97% of them had gone home on the same day that they were missing, and 25% have gone home within an hour after going missing," says Ms Clemens.

Now, if technology could just find a way to get the dog to wash himself...


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  • rate this

    Comment number 36.


    Buy your neighbour a catnip plant or two for their garden, or plant citrus type plants in yours . (Or put citrus scent on flowerpots etc) Completely harmless to the cats but they do avoid it as much as possible.

    There are solutions if you look instead of complaining about the cats.

    As for the article, when I get a cat, I'll have to look into a petcube...

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    One might imagine that if you have a dog (for example) that you would want to make a bit of a fuss of it, play with them, feed the poor beast and enjoy the fact that you have an animal to share your time with. One that is intelligent enough to take and give joy, love and companionship

    It's a breathing being, not the latest app!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Yeah like I need to watch a cat licking its paws for an hour. I wonder what Freud would say about the things people do with social media today?

  • Comment number 33.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    What a great idea. Both me and my partner work shifts and get in pet sitters for the 3 or so days a month we're both on the same shift. Having a way to check up on my dog while I'm at work would ease my worries about what time the pet sitter is able to get to her and would help me to know how much exercise she has had and so how much she will need when I get in.

  • Comment number 31.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    What a rivetting article 000000000000000000000

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    @ 4.blondie

    I've never met a dog I don't like. Sadly I cannot say the same about people.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    I know its going to be unpopular but I do really mean it. Many of the people spending a fortune on pets, food medicare toys etc are doing humanity a great dis-service.

    If they are young enough and fit enough they should Foster or Adopt a child. You get to buy it toys and play with it just like a pet but get meaningful emotional contact - not fake animal trained responses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    @14--LOL "Dog's part of the family" - till it tears some kids face off because the adults are too inept to look after it properly."

    There's Bad apples all around. Let's just accept that you don't like dogs. Kids play with fire and burn houses down, but you don't hear me snarking to ban families from buildings. Though I will agree that dogs shouldn't be left unattended in yards all day.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    I've been doing this for years. I have a PT-webcam (pan-tilt) with audio. I used it to make sure everything's okay when I'm away for a couple of days (I can call up a neighbour if necessary), and using motion detection, I can see if my cats are eating properly.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    This is a great workaround. In today's work-world, the Owner is often forced to spend more time away from Home and their pet. And that's just the reality. If anything these gadgets are great for people with the smaller, more energetic dogs. Happily, my reg'lar sized pookums does settle down for the day when I go to work and we both greet each other with joy when I get home.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Like my neighbour, I wish all the cat owners in adjacent properties would not only monitor their pets' activities, but put a restraining lead on every one of them and provide them with litter trays instead of allowing these ruthless bird-killers to roam and mess in my garden and those of other cat-haters. I set my dog after them, and spray the trespassers with soapy water when they're in range.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Is there some tech that can keep somebody else's cat from poohing in my garden? Now that would be useful. Or a device that stops them from ripping every living thing to pieces perhaps?

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    I watched the Cats prog, and thought how we can track each other by smartphone using GPS etc - so who's tracking us? All said NO! to id cards but are clamouring to have smartphones...........

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    @14 "There's no point to a dog in a town" & not much point in the country either seeing as how here are livestock everywhere.

    We have 2 dogs & I thought getting them would increase our incentive to go walking but mostly we have to leave them behind because of the restrictions on walking them off lead. I think we are moving from a nation of animal lovers to a one of animal haters. Such a shame.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Having seen the fainting goats videos what I'd really like is a little switch to stop my beagle in its tracks when it's off down the field after a rabbit.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    I see they are field testing the new technology before implanting it in children.
    You will be able to see your childs activity level, attendance at school and which kids they are playing with.

    Pets first then Kids. Will it still report to the vet?

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.


    How could I ever fool myself again that while any of my BFs 5 cats might well snack on an occasional rabbit if was a bit peckish one day, not one would ever snack on any wee bunny wabbit. At least cats don't pack to attack kiddies etc. but otherwise...who can say.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    I use something call Tagg -The Pet Tracker , it's a shame that one wasn't reviewed because it has both an accelerometer and a GPS function. So if by dog leaves the home when I am not there, I can get texts/emails then track the dog using a smartphone/tablet/computer. If nothing untoward happens then you have graphs and charts that show levels of dogs exercise intensity.

    Peace of mind for me!


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