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This start-up is using AI to figure out what our pets are trying to tell us

  • Y Combinator and Almaz Capital have invested $10 million in new funding into Petcube.
  • Petcube makes Wi-Fi connected cameras that let owners check in on their pets remotely.
  • U.S. pet owners spend more than $3,500 a year on their pets, on average.

A start-up called Petcube is developing machine learning software to help people understand what their pets are trying to tell them, and to predict and prevent pet health problems.

Petcube is best-known for its Wi-Fi-connected cameras, which allow users to watch and interact with their pets at home through a smartphone app, then share videos or stills of their pets to social media.

For instance, the $199 Petcube Play lets cat owners control a laser pointer to send their cat flying around the room, while the $249 Petcube Bites lets owners fling treats to their pets remotely.

Petcube CEO and co-founder Yaroslav Azhnyuk told CNBC that the company will soon release Alexa skills that allow users to voice-control any Petcube gadget by voice, or enable automatic reorders of treats that fit in the Petcube Bites machine via Amazon Dash.

But this is just a Trojan Horse for its bigger goal: Helping humans understand their four-legged friends. To that end, Petcube just raised $10 million from investors including Y Combinator and Almaz Capital.

"Right now, we make hardware and apps that allow you to watch, feed and play with your pets remotely," Azhnyuk said. "But we can really advance our understanding of pets as well. We are starting to think about our potential to be helpful to research institutions, much like Google, Twitter or Facebook have become over the years."

Long-term, he said, Petcube is working on developing deep learning software that can analyze the huge quantities of pet video that go through its connected cameras to learn more about animal behavior and how it's linked to animal health issues and moods.

While this may seem far-fetched, Almaz Capital's Daniil Stolyarov, who invested in the company, explained why he's bullish about the pet-tech space.

First, he noted, large players in pet food and retail tend to acquire other businesses to tap into innovation and generate new revenue streams, rather than developing these in-house. Second, people are spending more than ever on their pets -- more than $3,500 per pet, on average, annually in the U.S.

Stolyarov said he expects Petcube to use its new funding on hiring and research, and to expand its reach internationally.

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