No matter how rough times get economically, we still love to pamper our pets.
Americans spent more than $61.4 billion on their pets in 2011 (the most recent figures available), according to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor. The average household spent more than $500 (beyond the typical amount for alcohol and men's clothing). And tech companies are looking to get a slice of that pie.
As the wearable revolution spreads in the two-legged world, a segment of the market is focusing on our four-legged friends. And other gadget makers are turning their attentions there as well. Whether pet owners will respond remains to be seen, but they're certainly not wanting for options. Here are some of the high-tech toys available to pet owners.
—By Chris Morris, Special to CNBC.com
Posted 15 Feb. 2014
Humans have Fitbit and Basis. Pets get Whistle, a new wireless, waterproof device that attaches to a dog's collar and tracks their activity and rest, giving some insight into how man's best friend spends his or her day. Using an app, owners are able to see when their pet is walking, resting and playing. The device helps them determine whether their pet needs to move more to eliminate boredom or lose weight.
It's not unusual for a family pet to take off for greener pastures. But it's particularly stressful if you don't immediately notice the jailbreak. The Tagg pet tracker is a small system that fits onto your pet's collar and acts as a GPS beacon when they escape. Just press "Locate" on your computer or mobile device and the system will show you where Fido is exploring, enabling you to go and fetch him. The system can also be set up to send you—and up to four other people—an alert when your pet escapes. It's water resistant, and the battery holds a 30-day charge.
Like Whistle, Voyce is a wearable fitness device. Due out this spring, the device measures things like your pooch's pulse, respiratory rate, rest patterns and calories burned, which can all be tracked on mobile devices. (To find a pulse through the fur, it uses a radio frequency.) It can help you determine when a pup is typically most destructive and could give early warnings of arthritis and other health issues.
Technically, this compact personalized camcorder can be worn by humans as well, but since Sony debuted it at CES mounted on a dog, we're going to go with it. The camera lets you capture a dog's-eye view of the world via a harness that mounts the camera to his or her back. If nothing else, you'd likely get some great YouTube videos from the footage.
We spend a lot of time talking to our dogs, but when they bark back, we generally aren't too sure what they mean. No More Woof is a headset that aims to pick up EEG signals from a dog's brain and attempt to translate them into English. The creators, who come from the Swedish product-development center called Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery, say it's still a work in progress, but they have seen results. (It's still a few years away from being a marketable product, though.)
That hasn't stopped backers on IndieGoGo from contributing nearly $20,000, twice what developers were seeking.
If you've ever shined a flashlight on the floor or wall near a cat or dog, you've seen how captivated they become. FroliCat shines a laser in a random pattern on floors and walls, then automatically shuts down after 15 minutes. This gadget keeps pets entertained and helps them burn off excess energy so you can have time to take care of other things.
Concerned over who will feed your pet when you are out of town or stuck at the office later than planned? SmartFeeder is an automatic pet food dispenser that can be controlled from a smartphone, letting owners adjust feeding schedules in real time. It will also let owners track a pet's calorie intake and adjust its diet as necessary. Still in preproduction.
The worst part of owning a dog, hands down, is cleaning up waste. It's an unpleasant job, and it can strain your back bending over time and again. AugieDog's Stool Tool is, for lack of a better term, a poop vacuum that picks up waste from the ground and stores it in an interior receptacle. Later, owners empty it by reversing the flow of the tool and disposing of it as they wish. It's meant to accompany you on walks but could also be used to clean up the backyard.
This high-tech self-cleaning litter box looks like something out of a science-fiction movie, but if you can get your cat to go into this imposing kitty toilet, you might save money and effort. Seven minutes after the cat is finished doing its business, the dome rotates, sifts waste into a separate drawer (which is lined by a plastic bag), then returns the cleaned litter. It's quiet, but—as an added bonus—it could be just loud enough to keep dogs from searching for a 'treat' in the litter box.
If you can't bring your pet to the office, sometimes just checking in on it can be a good stress reliever. Launching in May, PetCube will let owners watch, talk to and even remotely play with their pets (via the system's integrated low-intensity laser pointer) through their smartphone. There's also a social component that will let owners' friends digitally check in on (and play with) them.