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IoT Wearables Keep Pets Healthy, Happy, and Safe: Why and How

June 19, 2020

Sixty-seven percent of US households — that’s a whopping 85 million families — have at least one pet. Besides freshwater fish, which remains the most popular animal companion in the USA, Americans keep 89.7 million dogs and 94.2 million cats. 

Through 2020, US pet owners are expected to spend $99 billion on their furry, scaly, and feathery friends (up from $69.4 billion in 2017). Out of that sum, $40.9 billion will be spent on veterinary care, grooming, insurance, training, and pet technology. The latter category presents a lucrative opportunity for IoT developers, notably companies that specialize in wearable devices.

The global pet wearable market, which topped $3 billion last year, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23% between 2020 and 2026. Currently, smart collars comprise 42% of wearable pet devices shipped globally.

The global pet wearable market, which topped $3 billion last year, is expected to grow at a CAGR of 23% between 2020 and 2026.

In case your company wants to develop a custom IoT solution, this article will give you an idea of what your potential customers expect from a connected device and what issues you might encounter in the development process.

IoT Pet Tracker Systems Take the Stress out of Pet Ownership

A pet tracker is an electronic device that is attached to a pet’s collar. Such devices use GPS, Bluetooth, or cellular connectivity to monitor animals’ whereabouts in real time. 

Besides collecting location data, some collars also incorporate motion, heart rate, and breathing sensors, as well as built-in microphones and cameras. These functional components help users monitor their pets’ physical activity, enhance the dog training process, or remotely soothe animals that are prone to anxiety.

Essentially, the applications of IoT-based pet wearable solutions revolve around pet loss prevention and real-time health monitoring.

Pet Loss Prevention

  • Each year, 10 million cats and dogs are lost in the United States.
  • Up to 70% of stray animals end up in shelters. Merely 15% of lost dogs and 2% of cats without microchips and ID tags are reunited with their owners.
  • 25% of cats, once missing, are never recovered.
  • The chances of recovering a lost pet significantly decrease after the first 24 hours.

While microchipping remains the most secure and reliable form of permanent pet identification, the tiny chips that go beneath pets’ skin do not allow pet parents to quickly locate the animal if it wanders away.

IoT-based pet monitoring solutions work in conjunction with mobile applications. Using a dedicated mobile app, pet owners can define safe zones for their four-legged friends. When animals leave their home, yard, or an area they frequently visit, smart trackers send notifications to the mobile app. The technology helps pet owners stay on the alert and quickly pinpoint ramblers on an online map.

When animals exhibit undesirable behavior — e.g., leave a safe zone or enter an off-limits area — advanced pet tracker models can also apply automatic corrections. These include vibration, sound signals, pre-recorded voice commands, or gentle electric shocks. The type and intensity of behavioral corrections can be calibrated to change depending on how far an animal has gone.

When animals exhibit undesirable behavior — e.g., leave a safe zone or eat random food on the street — advanced pet tracker models can also apply automatic corrections.

Health and Physical Activity Monitoring

  • In 2017, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) estimated that 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States were either overweight or obese.
  • Obesity and the knock-on effects of excess fat can bring a host of health issues, including diabetes, arthritis, heart failure, and some forms of cancer. 

With smart pet monitoring solutions, users can make sure their pets are getting enough exercise and adjust their eating habits.

Equipped with inertial measurement unit (IMU), pulse, temperature, and respiratory rate sensors, wearable trackers collect data on pets’ physical activity. The data is stored and processed in the cloud. The anomalies detected in pets’ biometric data can help veterinarians diagnose health problems or recommend a more suitable diet.

Smart pet activity trackers can be used in combination with connected feeders like Petnet or Wagz to deliver food portions based on an animal’s activity levels.

How IoT Wearable Systems Work under the Hood

To capture, process, and visualize sensor and location data, wearable devices rely on several functional components:

  • Hardware. Basic devices that only allow users to track location and activity feature PCBs, sensors, and connectivity modules. High-end wearables may incorporate a built-in microphone or camera for two-way feedback. Optionally, an IoT tracking system may feature a base station that bulk-uploads telemetry data to the cloud over Wi-Fi and acts as a safe zone indicator inside a home. In some cases, a base station may be replaced with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons scattered around a house. Smart tags calculate location within a range of up to 300 meters and tend to outperform GPS in confined areas.
  • Embedded software. Firmware that interconnects the hardware components of a smart wearable and grants the device the ability to communicate with a mobile app and back end, and capture sensor, audio, and video data. Over-the-air (OTA) firmware updates are essential for rolling out new device features and security patches.
  • Connectivity. Wearables typically use Bluetooth to exchange data with a mobile application. The technology also underpins the logic of the virtual leash functionality by estimating the distance between a pet and a user’s smartphone. Alternatively, wearable devices may leverage Wi-Fi for indoor connectivity. Outdoors, trackers rely on GPS or cellular connectivity to send location data to the cloud and the mobile app. Hybrid systems can use GPS for outdoor tracking while switching to Wi-Fi or BLE indoors to optimize battery usage.
  • Back end. IoT tracking systems use back ends powered by cloud services like Azure IoT Hub or AWS IoT Core to communicate with a mobile app, retrieve and process sensor data, and orchestrate the smart devices. Additional features, including the integration with Smart Home solutions and voice assistants, are also implemented at the back-end level.
  • Mobile applications. The primary function of tracking apps is to display location on an online map and send notifications to users. Additionally, mobile applications allow users to define safety zones, configure and apply behavioral corrections, and access health and physical activity data — in real time or over a given period.

Things to Consider When Building an IoT Wearable Solution

As a company that has been engaged in multiple wearable technology projects, Softeq would like to provide several recommendations for technology startups eyeing the pet tracker market.

Tip 1: Avoid Feature Creep

One of our clients set out to create a smart wearable solution with a step counter, GPS module, microphone-speaker combo, and video camera. The battery-powered device was also designed to stream HD video and audio content to a cross-platform mobile app over 2G and incorporated five different radio technologies. The company struggled to manage the project scope and launched the product much later than initially expected.

Starting with a minimum viable product (MVP) is an IoT development best practice. This means you first create a device with just enough functions to launch a successful crowdfunding campaign or get buy-in from investors. It is better to gradually add new features after the product goes live and starts bringing in revenue.

Tip 2: Be Aware of Possible Project Management Issues 

IoT wearables are multi-layered systems that feature custom devices, embedded apps, advanced back ends, and cross-platform or native mobile applications. Few IoT developers possess the expertise and human resources to build these components under one roof. As a result, they end up outsourcing hardware, embedded systems, cloud, and mobile application development to different vendors. Their technology partners may lack hands-on experience building pet tracking solutions or have their own way of working with the approved technology stack.

It is recommended that you start your project with a Business Analysis phase and determine what skills your in-house IT department lacks. Next, you need to delegate a product owner with a string of successful IoT projects under their belt to monitor the distributed teams engaged in your project.

Tip 3: Look beyond Common Features to Stand out from the Competition

With many wearables on the market, customers don’t need another standalone device that brings no new capabilities to the table. IoT developers should either enhance their trackers with innovative features or make them part of a larger ecosystem.

Wagz, a pioneer of pet tracking technology, offers a fully-integrated range of pet care products. Their smart collar works in tandem with a connected feeder, water dish, and treat dispenser. Alternatively, startups can design custom Alexa skills to make pet trackers part of a Smart Home solution. Or applying AI/ML to analyze the backend data could help prevent health problems before they progress too far.

Take-home Message

By 2021, the number of pets that wear some form of smart wearable could reach 2.8 million worldwide (up from 300 thousand in 2017).

To tap into the burgeoning market, IoT wearable developers of all types of solutions should:

  • Design a wearable that is small and durable enough to withstand an active lifestyle (including water resistance)
  • Ensure sensor accuracy and connectivity over short and long distances, both indoors and outdoors
  • Optimize the feature set of a wearable solution and use energy-efficient connectivity technologies to avoid battery drain
  • Think out of the box to bring additional value to digital-first consumers
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