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Pet Retail Market Chases Smart Products

There are now many more US families adopting pets than having kids. The pet retail market topped US$90 billion in 2018 and continues to rise as deep-pocketed pet parents find increasingly novel ways to pamper their fur babies.

Today’s pet owners are happy to splurge on toys, clothing, grooming services, beds and more for the little creatures that are a huge part of their lives. And just as AI, IoT and smart home technologies are enhancing human environments, so are frontier technologies evolving a new pets’ smart living trend. Advancements in machine learning in recent years have enabled a number of novel offerings in the pet retail market, pushing smart pet products sales to US$565 million in 2018.

Sure Petcare, a small company founded in 2008 by Cambridge physicist Dr. Nick Hill, was a pioneer in the booming micro-chip-controlled pet door market. Himself a cat lover, Hill’s first prototype was inspired by the home-intruding feral cats which scared his own pet. He developed the microchip-operated cat door using his cat’s existing microchip as a personalized key — a solution that prevented other animals from entering his home while affording his cat full in-and-out access.

The company’s products have since been improved in many ways — for example the pet door now links to and can be remotely controlled via an owner’s smartphone. Sure Petcare has also developed smart feeders controlled by microchips or RFID collar tags, and sensor-based behaviour monitors for dogs.

AutoPets, a Michigan-based company founded in 2000 by Brad Baxter, has developed a number of futuristic automated solutions for smart pet life. AutoPets’ star product is a cat litter robot. Baxter adopted his first cat in 1999, and found that bending down to scoop out a litter box was a generally unpleasant exercise. An engineer, Baxter designed a litter robot that monitors a cat’s activities inside the litter box and automatically cleans up what the pet leaves behind. With the slogan “Don’t be a scooper”, the company appeals to cat parents who prefer meows and whiskers to smelly deposits.

Silicon Valley based startup Obe, founded in 2014, focuses on digital pet wellness. Using machine learning and other AI techniques, its smart food system provides the optimal amount of food and nutrition according to a dog’s individual needs. The automated food and water bowls also track eating and drinking habits and re-calibrate their own settings as required.

The rise of artificial intelligence techniques is expanding the scope and variety of personalized smart pet products. Moreover, AI-powered recommendation systems are very effectively introducing these products to pet owners in a timely and targeted manner.

With the help of AI, IoT and smart devices, pet owners can now monitor the feeding, health condition, behavior and even the feelings of their pets, which can contribute to reduced stress (in pets and owners alike) and lead to a happier, healthier and longer life for pets.

Author: Linyang Yu | Editor: Michael Sarazen

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