Cats and the Internet of Things (IoT)? Wait a minute, cats already rule the ‘interwebs’. Wouldn’t handing the growing Internet of Things over to them be the end of civilisation as we know it?
If you have been keeping an eye on this radical development appearing on the pet community radar. You will probably agree that a cat would prefer a long nap. Let’s find out why! We can’t give you an Internet of Things tutorial, but we can give you an idea of what’s coming your way.
The New ‘Internet of Things’
We found an Internet of Things definition that helps us show the IoT as it affects pet owners, and their fur families. The one big thing you need to remember is that this is not one thing, one place, or entity. The IoT covers smart home pet products like feeders, toys, pet wearables, health and activity monitors and trackers, all created by Internet of Things companies.
These devices will use different means of transmitting information. They might use the same WiFi as your laptop, RFID like our radio frequency Tabcat, or the Bluetooth* you find on your smartphone. [* indicates a note at the bottom of the post explaining an item. There is also an affiliate link in this post.]
- “The Internet of Things is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people, that are provided with unique identifiers* and the ability to transfer data over a network without human or human to computer interaction.” – IoTAgenda.However you define it, for the average cat owner, the IoT could bring about many positive changes. Hundreds of companies are researching and developing new IoT devices all the time. They are designing human devices and pet products for a connected software-driven world.
Artificial Intelligence – What is it?
You will see phrases such as AI – artificial intelligence, and augmented reality. Think SIRI or a self-drive car. Your smart devices and digital assistants will be equipped with Internet of Things software. They are becoming more common, familiar and easy to use. Very quickly you will realise that the impact of the Internet of Things cannot be under estimated. IoT will affect electronics, how people create and market them. How they are manufactured, and the most effective and economical way to do so. It will change how we shop for our pet products, and what we buy. Int
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Examples of Internet of Things Applications
These Internet of Things products and devices will start arriving on your doorstep soon. Each device is an independent item that functions on its own but it will need to use cloud computing and a variety of networks to function. Your cat feeder or wellness monitor will talk to their a manufacturer (for supplies or updates) or a smartphone will use networks that will the most secure on the planet.
IBM has developed Watson. It is the world’s biggest and most secure IoT cloud based platform for businesses. Watson will be one of the providers processing the data pet tech companies need to operate devices. These devices include cat doors, wellness monitors, and medication assessment software.
If you have time, check out some of the videos to see just how impressive ‘Watson‘ is, and see the potential for the IoT. IMB’s Boston summit on the Genius of Things has posted several of its presentations online. While it focuses on their own major development, you can draw your own conclusions on how helpful the IoT could be for us as pet people.
Digital Assistants and Their Impact
Some devices are in homes right now. They take the form of digital assistants such as Google Assistant or Alexa or Echo (from Amazon). These will develop and change at a rapid pace. At the moment these devices rely on input tailored to each device. Each device is different but sooner or later they will all the same instructions and eventually grow to recognise voice and gestures.
- “Digital Assistants will be intelligent, …. they’ll know our preferences, and … they’ll be able to adjust the world to our liking. What’s more significant is that they will do this for us continuously” – Daniel Miessler
Digital assistants will be one of the ways information from your cat devices will reach you. You should remember that the whole Internet of Things plays a part in the information reaching you. Other technology interprets the signal as it travels across the ‘things’ networks and it really will be like a web connecting thousands of devices.
The IoT Will Empower Cat Owners
OK, I admit the IoT will empower dog owners and other pets too but, this is a cat blog so let’s move on!
Cat owners are not always at home and sometimes feel less in control of their cat’s care than they want to be. This becomes a more pressing issue when dealing with either young, sick or senior cats, or monitoring the diet of a cat you feel might be eating too much.
While researching the impact of the IoT I saw this quote “IoT devices connected to the Internet will more than triple by 2020“. I believe pet people will have a lot to do with this explosion in growth.
In fact, thanks to devices like the Tabcat and Sure Pet’s ‘App Controlled Pet Door’ steps are already being made towards pet parent empowerment. Sensors in devices that are part of the IoT will be activated by digital assistants, or a small local power network like ZigBee* and transform the lives of our cats. Your intelligent cat flap may sense the change in pressure on a rainy day and dispense treats or perform actions to encourage cats to come inside. One downside? The IoT can’t convince your cats to come in if they love getting wet!
We are going to suggest some general areas are where the Internet of Things may benefit the life of your feline family. Some proposals are still in development, many are already with us but the first cutting edge devices are almost with us:
- Wellbeing and Cat Welfare
- Behaviour monitoring
- Engagement and Play
Devices track activity with a monitor attached to or built into a collar. To encourage exercise, for example, a sensor could work out when your cat has been inactive for too long and start moving one of a series of toys, or games in your home. This will attract the cat’s attention and encourage movement and exercise.
Let’s see how would that would work. Your cat’s collar might have a lightweight sensor attached. This tracks activity, movement and sleep patterns which are transmitted to a cloud server or digital assistant then to your smartphone. You may elect to play virtually with your cat, or instruct a digital assistant or toy to automatically act after a specified rest period.
Monitoring Cat Welfare
Many cat owners confess to poop spotting! It is part of being a cat parent, checking to see how their ‘stuff’ looks in the litter tray is a good way to monitor many health issues. The IoT may come to the watchers rescue and relieve them of this unpleasant task. Intelligent litter trays anyone? One company exploring exploring a smarter way to monitor cats and their health is litter tray developer Tailio. The Tailio helps spot when something might be amiss and alerts the App owner.
How does a device like the Tailio work? This ‘intelligent’ litter tray monitors cat weight, and cat litter box routines. It can even be used in a multicat household. The device watches for changes in patterns of behaviour which can, potentially indicate the onset of disease. Being able to act on these early signals early might catch a illness earlier and, any treatment can begin a lot sooner. An added bonus? Your veterinary surgery can be sent a copy of any details available direct from your litter tray’s sensors.
- The location of the technology in the Tailio (under a litter tray) is not only is ingenious, it also shows the vital importance of research, feedback from pet owners, and product development before a IoT pet device is launched. No cat would go into a litter box if it perceived something amiss
A feeding device at the forefront of cat tech’ development, and which shows how the Internet of Things can help cat owners to monitor diet and weight is the PetTrax – RightBite. This feeder, from PetTrax, is currently in the final stages of development. It is less than a paw step away from being a truly intelligent independent monitor of one of the most important elements of cat health – your cat’s weight.
How the PetTrax RightBite works gives you a clear idea of how IoT feeders will work for and with you, the cat owner.
- The feeder is set up and controlled from a smartphone by the PetTrax Mobile App.
- You add the cat’s daily calorie intake . This can be single or multi pet, to your ‘phone.
- The PetTrax Feeder records current and historical data. Also it records how long each cat eats for.
- Your app alerts you when a cat is not eating – a valuable health indicator.
- The design allows only one cat (or dog!) to eat at a time. The feeder has a generous one month’s capacity for dried food.
- The feeder identifies family members by their microchip which governs access.
For those who worry if the feeder will feed enough to the right cat. PetTrax has this to say:
“Once PetTrax RightBite identifies your pet, it analyzes the pet profile to determine whether it is appropriate to feed your pet. The pet profile contains data about your pet including: foods that the pet is allowed to eat, feeders the pet is allowed to eat at, the last time the pet ate today, the total daily calorie allowance for the pet, and the total calorie allowance per feeding session.” – PetTrax
HOT TIP: If you a pet owner and interested in this radical new feeder, head over to the PetTrax website and join their mailing list for information and the important the launch date.
This is one area where cats and their families have seen a lot of development. The location, behaviour and monitoring of cat and other pets.
For finding missing cats there are now cat locators such as Tabcat (RFID) and a host of GPS locators such as the Whistle 3, and the Pip Kickstarter. GPS locators are still too bulky for many cats. However, they are popular with dog owners and you can find plenty online.
For home cat behaviour, and outdoor catio pet monitoring the Petcube is a stylish best seller and really brings home how the IoT can be used in the home. Petcube users monitor pets from a smartphone app. A pet can be viewed and played with thanks to the integral (pet safe) laser. Some models can dispense treats at the users command, and both the Play and Bites models include a night vision camera.
- The next step with the IoT might be integrating the video camera and treat dispenser with a feeder to ensure a fully balanced balanced diet.
Engagement and Play
At the moment the super cute Schru is one of the toys leading the way for interactive engagement. It is App operated with a series of adjustable settings that mimic ‘prey’ movements and encourage hunting behaviour. It is also very durable. We are field testing one at the moment.
A cat laser integrated into an interactive pet cam such as the Petcube is one of the most popular interactive cat toys. To be considered for manufacture these lasers have to be 100% cat safe. The laser should be For added security, one feature we appreciate as Petcube owners ourselves is the ability to set playtimes and adjust who plays with the laser toy as any time.
Cat engagement devices like the Petcube will become more sophisticated as technology continues to develop. Pet monitors may have two-way video for visual as well as the current audio communication available. Imagine checking in at home and seeing your cat from the other side of the world.
Cybersecurity and the Internet of Things
The whole of the Internet of Things for pet parents is based in the cloud, and other complex areas outside our control. As such it could be vulnerable to breaches in security. Standard security methods are not enough to keep out those determined to undermine the growing network, and in the USA Congress is already developing more stringent legislation to cope with breaches in security. Europe and Australasia are working along similar lines.
Many of the risks may not even have been thought of yet so this is new ground for everyone. Companies like IBM, and Amazon with its Echo will provide legislators with information to navigate us safely into the future. In the fast growing world of the Internet of Things systems will need to be intelligent and able to work without human supervision, knowing when and how to take proactive or defensive action to keep us safe as pet owners and in our daily lives.
Trust in the major providers is key to the success of the Internet of Things
This applies to pet parents and every other user. Watson for companies, and Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa and Echo will face challenges but brand trust will ensure more and more people make the shift to IoT devices.
“I don’t have any major concerns, ultimately if Amazon were listening to us they would likely use that data to sell us products which were better targeted at us which I have no problems with.” – Tuxedo Cat, Blogger
Trust and Personal Responsibility
This trust is a two way street. Every user has responsibility for their own security. Every device has settings that allow you to control how much you share. IoT security will get better and stronger but you the user are also a level of security between the bad guys and your pets. One day we really will make it the internet of everything!
What do you want to see as the next products this new vision of the internet creates for us all as pet parents?
Internet of Things Definitions:
*Bluetooth is a standard wire-replacement communications protocol primarily designed for low-power consumption. It has a short range based on low-cost transceiver microchips in each device.
*Unique Identifiers: A unique identifier (UID) is a numeric or alphanumeric string that is associated with a single entity within a given system. UIDs make it possible to address that entity, so that it can be accessed and interacted with.
The Care and Feeding of a Black Hole. Not IoT but a small quirky book that is an entertaining and phlosophical read.
Digital Assistants – Daniel Miessler
Benefits and Risks of Artificial Intelligence (includes a great infographic)
*ZigBee is (describing it simply), a suite of high-level communication protocols used to create small personal or home based area networks with small, low-power digital transmitters, These would be used for home automation, pet medical device data collection, and devices with low-power low-bandwidth requirements.
IoT and Blockchain (payment method) – A cool article on how the IoT will impact on payments, how the growth will impact on how we pay and who is involved. Blockchain, like the IoT is open to interpretation and discussion.