Thursday, March 2, 2017

Dog Tech: Interactive Webcams for Dogs

We've been keeping tabs on pets via webcam for as long as we've had webcams, but did you know that there are two-way devices specifically for remotely interacting with your dog? Wall-mounted, freestanding, or even interactive, they allow your pet to see and hear you while you're watching them. Some devices move, or even dispense treats, all controlled from your smartphone. 


I got to see the PetCube in person at SuperZoo 2016, and it's pretty awesome. Their flagship product is a little 4" cube with a webcam and two-way audio. Other features include sound and motion alerts, digital zoom, and the ability to capture video and pictures on demand. The original PetCube streams 720p video and has a 138-degree view.

They've since released the PetCube Play and the PetCube Bites. The Play is a smaller 3" cube with night vision, 1080p video, and an interactive laser pointer that allows you to play with your pet remotely. The Bites is a treat dispenser that can fling goodies up to 1" in size either on a schedule, or on demand. All of PetCube's devices are both iOS and Android compatible. The original model will set you back $150, the Play is $200, and the Bites is currently in pre-order stage for $250.


Furbo is another treat-dispensing petcam. While PetCube is designed to sit on a counter or table, Furbo sits on the floor where it somehow resists destruction. Furbo uses yellow and blue lights to signal to your pet when you are monitoring remotely and are available to dispense treats. It can be loaded with any treat that will fit through the dispenser hole, the company recommends using round ones that are less than a centimeter in diameter. To keep pets from knocking it over, it includes adhesive tape and also a tripod mount. 

Furbo has two-way audio and the camera has a 120-degree field of vision. Video quality can be set to either 320p or 720p. It is both iOS and Android compatible. Despite the appearance of this puppycam, it cannot be rotated or moved remotely. Furbo is currently selling for $211.


Petzi is another remote treat dispenser petcam. The website is pretty short on details, but it apparently dispenses any treat less than 1" in size. It has night vision and two-way audio, and runs about $170. The website describes the camera as "wide angle", but doesn't give specifics on either the viewing angle or the video resolution. It does offer a number of different mounting options, including screwing it to the wall and strapping it to furniture.


PetChatz is unique among the petcams because it offers two-way video as well as audio. That's right, it has a little LCD screen so your dog can see your face. It also features a remote treat dispenser and a remote soothing scent dispenser. PetChatz mounts to the wall over a power outlet, without offering any cords and highly-chewable corners. The option PawCall accessory allows your pet to initiate video calls with you. It looks like PetChatz only uses their specific treats. This one is both iOS and Android compatible, and it's also made in the USA! All these features come with a hefty price tag, just the basic PetChatz unit will set you back $380. 


Playdate is a petcam inside a remote-control ball. Yes, it's an interactive moving camera. The outside is a hard polycarbonate ball that can be replaced if damaged, and the whole thing charges wirelessly without having to take it apart. You can take a picture or record video with PlayDate, use two-way audio, and even make it squeak remotely! The camera is stabilized to prevent that shaky camera effect. Unlike many petcams, PlayDate has a website interface in addition to the iOS and Android apps. PlayDate's IndieGoGo campaign was fully-funded in May 2016, they missed their December 2016 ship date and are now hoping to ship in July of 2017. You can still get in on the campaign, for $190 you can get a PlayDate smartball if and when they finally ship.

I'm usually very skeptical of IndieGoGo campaigns with endless delays, but this one somehow feels more genuine. I think it's the pictures and stories about Hulk, the creator's lab/ridgeback mix and inspiration for creating a way to remotely interact with dogs. Nothing makes a company seem more honest and trustworthy than personal pet stories, in my book.

For wearable ways to monitor your best friend remotely, you can follow along on my search for a dog GPS tracker, explore the world of cat wearables, and check out some upcoming smartcollars that I'm looking forward to.

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