Skype Technology for Four-Legged VIPs

Waiting by the Front Window-Flickr

If you’re a busy executive who travels for work and has to leave your four-legged buddy at home, what do you do? In the past, you would hire a pet sitter, board, or leave your dog with a family member. Your canine buddy would be taken care of, but you don’t have a chance to see how and what he’s doing. This might have been partially addressed if your dog walker sent you some photos while your dog is being exercised, but that is about it.

Americans spent $60.28 billion on pets in 2015 and are expected to spend $62.75 billion in 2016. So, it’s not surprising that existing products are being used for pets, or new high-tech pet gadgets are hitting the market to enable pet owners to remotely connect with their four-legged friends.

With videoconference technology being made easier for everyone to use, many people are using Skype to check on and interact with their dogs and cats. For example, Paris Permenter, Skype’s pet brand ambassador who travels extensively, sets up a Skype session for her pets.

More specifically, Permenter sets up a pre-arranged call time with her pet sitter to check in and make sure all is going well in her absence. Professional pet sitters, more than ever before, now expect to stay in touch with pet parents who are traveling. While many routinely email photos and daily updates, most are happy to hop on a Skype video call as well. Permenter makes it easy for the sitter by providing treats to be distributed during the call. She says it’s nice to call and get an update on the pets when traveling, but it’s especially helpful to be able to see them (and often interact with them) via Skype.

Petcube, a San Francisco-based company, takes it a step further. Petcube sells a smart camera that allows users to watch their pets in real time as well as talk and play with them remotely using a laser pointer. Customers simply use their smartphones to check in on their pets. “It’s basically like Skype for you and your pet, but your pet doesn’t have to pick up the phone,” said co-founder Yaroslav Azhnyuk.

Petcube is part of a growing market for high-tech pet gadgets. Apps like Wag let users book on-demand dog walkers in San Francisco and other cities. Petcube also has direct competition in the pet camera space from products such as the Petzi Treat Cam, a camera that dispenses pet treats, made by San Jose-based Petzila.

David Clark, president and CEO of Petzila, said he’s seen the pet tech industry expand significantly since he founded his company in 2012. “We all care for our pets and wonder what they’re doing when we’re not there, and of course, want to be good pet parents,” Clark said. “It seemed very much like a logical progression for technology to begin to incorporate our pets.”

The Petzi Treat Cam jingles when its human user turns it on remotely, Clark said, which alerts the dog or cat to expect its owner’s voice. After talking to their pet, users can press a button on their smartphone to launch a small treat into the room. The treat is important, because it gives the animal an incentive to approach the camera once it is activated.

The idea behind Petcube was sparked by Azhnyuk’s co-founder, Alex Neskin, who couldn’t get his Chihuahua, Rocky, to stop barking when he wasn’t home. Neskin turned to Google for a solution, but the most high-tech option he found was an anti-bark collar. Since Neskin was bothered by the idea of shocking his dog, he and Azhnyuk created Petcube based on the assumption that Rocky would calm down and stop barking if he heard Neskin’s voice. It worked.

High-tech products like Petcube and Petzi Treat Cam represent good news for busy pet owners. If you feel the need to remotely check in on your Labrador or tabby in real time, now you have gadgets to help you do it.

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Ryan Lahti is the founder and managing principal of OrgLeader, LLC. Stay up to date on Ryan’s STEM-based organization tweets here: @ryanlahti

(Photo: waiting by the front window, Flickr)

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