IMG_1284 (1)As we all know, “Dogs are a man’s/woman’s best friend!” so it should not be any surprise that humans’ interest and embrace of wearables is quickly migrating to Fido.

A pet wearable event held at the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto, notably one of the world’s largest and leading urban innovation hubs, was the backdrop for Toronto and Canada’s first pet wearables event.

Hosted by We are Wearables and Best Buy Canada, the theme was innovation focused on pets. To some readers this may seem like a novel idea, but to those in the room it appeared to be as natural as wearing their Apple watch or Fitbit device.

The event, the brainchild of Tom Emrich, founder of We areWearables, seeks to innovate, inform and educate the public about wearables, and in this instance for Pet Wearables, the mission includes fostering pet adoption.

Against a backdrop of exotic pets, including a kangaroo, lemur, and fox, the MaRS event provided a window into the direction that this sector of the wearables industry is heading. Currently, Canadians spend more than $6B / year on pets, and it should be no surprise that there are projections of Pet Wearable sales of more than $2.6 B by 2025. That is not small change.IMG_1287

Best Buy is strategically positioning itself to be the primary purveyor of Pet Wearables in Canada, in part by sponsoring the We are Wearables organization, and the MaRS event.

So why the interest in Pet Wearables? It’s not only a reflection of the migration of wearables from humans to pets, but also is a reflection of a number of key aspects of the “relationship” of people to their wearables.

Apple’s recent launch of the Apple watch, and Fitbit’s IPO offering are just two examples of how wearables’ popularity, functionality and marketability continues to grow. These wearables, in commonality, can be used to monitor fitness information about the wearer, such as heart rate, calories burned, and workout intensity.

But what is also significant is that consumers are willingly inviting, and figuratively embracing wearable technology to be on their body as an integral and essential component of their daily routines and activities. The wearability factor is a definite shift where communication becomes more intrinsic rather than an active process as is the case with smartphones.

The wearable not only requires but also provides or reciprocates with greater intimacy of technology to the wearer by virtue of its physical connectivity and access to personal, i.e. vital bodily information of the wearer. And in the case of the Apple watch, having a wearable that connects with an external device, such as an iPhone.

Therefore, if people are so comfortable on the whole with their wearable devices, then logically, why wouldn’t “man’s/woman’s “Best Friend” also be comfortable in wearing a device specifically designed for them?

Wearables for pets include several categories, and the following exhibitors at the event reflect how broadly Pet Wearables are providing connection points for pet owners and their pets:

  • Wondermento, creators of WonderWoof, is a dog tracking app and wearable device that monitors your dog’s daily activity
  • Binatone, exhibiting Motorola Scoutrainer 25 remote dog training system, and Motorola ultrasonic dog bark training collar
  • Petcube, interactive wireless pet camera which allows you to monitor your pet’s activity when you are “out of sight”
  • FitBark, doggie activity tracker 
  • CLEO Collar, a PetWearable that tracks and analyzes vital signs and reunites lost pets with their owners
  • FiFO,  product from Linxee Wireless, ultrathin and fashionable bluetooth smart tag for your pets and valuable items 
  • Petbot, video-enabled remote pet monitoring and treat dispenser

Just as we connect remotely with people with the help of devices, so are Pet Wearables enabling connectivity with our pets. It’s all about “sharing and caring” for one’s pet, and “staying connected” locally and remotely through technology.IMG_1293

An example of a smart wearable is Binatone-made Motorola Scout5000, recently awarded the Red Dot Award: for Product Design 2015. The wearable is in the form of a smart collar that sports a cellular connection that syncs to the owner’s smartphone. In addition to an on-board Wi-Fi and 3G, the device features a pedometer, 720p camera and a microphone and speaker so that you can hear what your dog is doing, and you can also talk back.

Guest panelists further highlighted the variety and application of Pet Wearables. Wonderwoof Founder, Betsy Fore, selected to Forbes 2015 Top 30 under 30, saw an opportunity to develop a product for pets geared primarily to the female buyer. Noting that women influence 85% of purchases, Betsy has designed a fashion-based product that looks like a bowtie and comes in 6 colours. The theme is “healthy, happy, together”, and facilitates pet’s socialization and getting together.

Because the Wonderwoof has integrated social media connectivity for owners, “play dates” can be scheduled for doggie friends; no need for your pet to feel lonely, not to mention no need for the owners to feel lonely either!

Apart from the connectivity angle, pet’s health information is provided to ensure that pets receive proper and timely care should an illness be spotted.

Panelist, Dr. Adam Little, a veterinarian and futurist (LifeLearn), indicated that we are in the “Dog Days of Data”, and extolled the benefits of Pet Wearable devices that can track and monitor the fitness levels and metrics of one’s pet to alert owners if there is a problem requiring attention before it becomes too severe.

There is even a newly developed cat monitor from Tailio that monitors litter box behaviours to indicate how well cats are doing. And Kittyo lets you play with your cat even when you’re not at home (laser pointer included!).

The health related monitoring is very important, as based on personal experience, a pet cannot communicate that they are not feeling well. Often, its only when symptoms are highly advanced that there is any indication that there may be a health problem, and it may be too late to for any treatment to be effective. So the value of a Pet Wearable to highlight a potential health issue is huge, not only to prolong life but to save on costly vet bills.

But putting a different perspective on Pet Wearables was Brad Pattison, TV host and dog trainer (whose IMG_1236 (3)certified trainer I used for our miniature schnauzer “Joey”), who gave a important reminder that no matter how insightful a wearable can be about one’s pet, and no matter how helpful a monitoring device can be, or how frequent is remote communication, a wearable cannot take the place of a person providing care, training, and the experience of mutual companionship.

That being said, by all I see, Pet Wearables are definitely here to stay. More than just a “cute” looking accessory, or a link to connect remotely, or visually monitor or engage, these devices reflect how technology is bridging human and pet experience by similarities of function and application.

And what does this mean for employers and employees?

If an employee wants to stay connected with their pet with the assistance of a wearable device or camera monitor, then what would be the harm? After all, if this will help an employee feel comfortable that their pet is doing well during the day, would this not help the employee to be productive?

Could we potentially see a day when employers will routinely provide a pet-daycare? Pet and employee could stay “in touch” via technology, but instead of the connection being work to home it could actually be work to pet daycare?

Could we potentially see employee fitness centres where dogs are allowed to run the track with their owner, and there can be a comparison of heart rate, speed, and other indices?

Dog owners will attest that dogs are great “bridge builders”, naturally social and ready to introduce owner to owner. There could be whole new social groups formed within as well as outside one’s employer, based on owners and pets connecting with the help of their Pet Wearables. This is a whole new way to look at fostering employee engagement!

According to Emrich, we are entering a time where everything is connected and there will be no option to buy a dumb device. As the devices featured at the Pet Wearables event demonstrate, although a pet has no ability to communicate how they are doing, its the devices that monitor the pet that will give the pet a voice.

By sending messages to the owner’s smart phone, they will be informed about their health and sense of well being throughout the day. This will result in better care, training, and better attention, all having a positive impact on pet health and fitness, which is a main goal of Pet Wearables. And in addition, as mentioned, will provide great comfort to the pet owner.

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