Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Thursday, May 23, 2024

IoT Is Coming to Your Pets 

People will do anything for their pets – this is something businesses bank on. Pets are family, after all, and in the U.S. alone there are 85 million families with pets, so it’s no surprise the pet industry is getting smarter about helping pet owners monitor and entertain their furry friends.

Cheaper and better microcontrollers mean almost anything can be turned into an IoT-connected device (it’s predicted there will be 30 billion IoT devices in use by 2022), including those for the pet sector. From pet food dispensers, to climate-controlled animal houses, pet doors with facial recognition and trackers that locate lost pets, the possibilities of pet tech are many, with smart pet products growing into a market worth more than $500 million.

While more devices means more digital security considerations inside the home, there is high demand among pet owners for pet-related peace of mind. Let’s unpack how the IoT industry is expanding into the pet sector.

Connecting Your Pets

Man’s best friend appears to be next on the growing list of connectable devices. Case in point: The Pet Cube 2. This product debuted at CES 2019, which featured an array of new pet tech. This second iteration of the product includes a camera that checks on animals while the owner out of the house. The device enables two-way audio and visuals, and the dog version allows the owner to dispense treats at the push of a smartphone button. The Pet Cube 2 retails for $180.

Perhaps your pet is into games. Enter Pebby. The internet-connected pet game is a ball that lets the owner interact with their animals remotely. Coming with a built-in high definition camera, a laser pointer, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities, the ball can be controlled and maneuvered from anywhere in the world via smartphone.

Maybe your pet is a little lazy and needs to be more active. The Little Cat acts like a big hamster wheel for felines, allowing them to walk or run while indoors. A built-in laser encourages them to climb aboard the wheel, with different positions and speeds possible to calibrate while the user is away from home. Be warned: The Little Cat costs $1800.

Pet Tech Risks 

A study by Zulily found the vast majority of millennial pet “parents” frequently worry about their pets when they are away from them. This is shown in the market’s growth, up 11 percent to $565 million YoY in 2018. Nonetheless, owners of pets and their corresponding smart products must be aware of what unprotected devices might bring into their home.

The fallibilities of IoT devices have been well documented. Cheap products often come with cheap device security. For example, cyber researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev last year disassembled and reverse engineered many common IoT devices, such as baby monitors and doorbells, uncovering serious security issues. "Using these devices in our lab, we were able to play loud music through a baby monitor, turn off a thermostat and turn on a camera remotely, much to the concern of our researchers who themselves use these products,” Dr. Yossi Oren said.

This is especially worrying when the majority of pet tech products come loaded with cameras and microphones. Just like owning a pet, owning smart pet tech requires the user to take responsibility. Running their devices through a peer-to-peer connection, rather than the industry-preferred cloud connection, can help prevent successful hack attacks.

Sniffing Out the Market

The bigger, more likely, risk of pet tech could be the addition of useless products to the IoT universe. The question of whether pets really need camera connections with owners at all hours of the day is not one that is easily answered. The constant communication is more for the well-being of the owner than the pet, so it is the humans who likely need to think twice as to whether The Little Cat or The Pet Cube 2 will be worth the money.

Pet tech does have the potential for development in useful ways – but it is arguable whether camera-connected devices which can dish out treats is one of them. As with anything in IoT, the limits of the sector are only bound by the imagination of the product team. So, for pet tech to truly break through the mainstream, it will be up to the developers and vendors of these products to create something worth the time and money of pet owners.

It makes sense that the world of IoT is developing products for some of humankind’s closest companions. This sector still has a way to go before pet tech is a necessity rather than a luxury.

Carsten Rhod Gregersen, CEO and founder of Nabto, provider of a peer-to-peer (P2P) based platform to IoT devices.