I love dogs. In fact, I love dogs so much that I don’t own one. Between my work and my lifestyle, I am rarely in a position these days to provide substantial care and companionship for a living thing that without my support, is permanently at risk of death by boredom, starvation or both. As great as they are for morning face-licks and openers with cuteness-captivated women, in my world, a dog would spend most of its time alone and that just wouldn’t be fair. Leo Trottier, Founder and CEO of CleverPet gets it.
“I really empathize with the life of a dog who, you know, doesn’t have a life of its own,” Leo told me in the CleverPet booth at CES 2016. “I had the idea in 2011 when I looked around and noticed that most homes were just one device away from providing a rich, engaging experience for the animals that were stuck there all day.”
CleverPet is essentially a “game” console for pets with three key elements: a food feeder, three lucent touchpads and an intelligent software program that is designed to execute onboarding, progressive learning and ongoing game play while managing food dispensing with extreme precision. You fill up the device with a day’s worth of food and through a series of cues and interactions, the dog stays cognitively (and physically) engaged as it gets fed.
Much of the up-front time and intelligence was put towards the physical management of the food. “Very few automated feeding devices have the ability to give out food with extreme precision,” Trottier explained. “Obviously the pet getting fed is central to all of this, so we gave a lot of attention to a design that could handle any food sizes without the risk of jamming.”
But it’s not like the touchpad gaming isn’t well thought out too; the 3-pad model has been used many times by people who have studied animal behavior for quite some time and on the CleverPet team alone, there is a PhD in Neurosciences, a PhD in computational Neuroscience and a nationally recognized dog trainer. Leo himself is a PhD candidate in Cognitive Science.
“You can think of it as a ‘process of meaning creation’,” said Leo. “We are gradually teaching the animal to engage more. The three touchpads is the simplest interface for both engaging the animal and effectively managing a feedback loop that serves as the foundation for a very smart, very precise rewards system.”
First, the device just feeds the animal – “Oh, this thing gives me food. I guess I should care about it.” Then, then device will start lighting up a pad without dispensing food – “Oh, this thing stopped feeding me. But now there’s a light flashing. Maybe I should care about that light.” Eventually, light patterns are expressed for repetition and reward, and before you know it, you’re back at home and your dog is reading Nietzsche.
Leo was quite excited for the next phase of the product. “Now that we’ve fine-tuned the physical piece of the dispensing and we have a solid foundation for the cognitive engagement, we’re going to spend a lot of time developing and enhancing the training algorithms and how they tie into the food rewards.”
All things considered, they seem to be barking up the right tree. In the average day of a dog, an afternoon with CleverPet certainly sounds like it beats a fuzzy bed, a frayed rope with nobody at the other end and a few overstated crotch-sniffs.
Their first batch of about 1,000 units will be shipping in the next 4-6 weeks (2/3 in the US, 1/3 international) – you can contact the team for more information or hop onto their waiting list on their website.
CleverPet originally secured about 500K in funding last year and is currently in the process of raising another $1 million in seed funding.
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