What are the similarities between smart home devices, activity trackers, and now biometrics? They're for your dog.
Several companies are promising the same in canine form as they did in humans.
Three products slated for release this year are all claiming the same thing. These devices use various forms of sensors to monitor heart rate and respiratory rate, which can be used to help detect heart conditions. Current smart devices for pets have built-in gps and activity tracking, but the health monitoring aspect is new. It has been difficult to measure a dog's vitals with ease. Some experts are wary of the new claims.
Adapting this technology to dogs is a challenge. Skin contact is required to get an accurate reading from the sensors in Apple Watches. Since most people aren't going to shave their furry friends just to wear a dog tracker, these technologies have historically been non-starter.
That leaves acoustic and radar technology, but they have their own challenges. It is difficult to translate radar signals into a health metric. There are acoustic signals that need to be Filters out extraneous sound.
"We don't have an electronics problem, we have a materials problem," said Dr. Firat Guder who is the principal investigator and chief engineer in the Department of Bioengineering at Imperial College London. It's not the technology, it's the application.
Several companies that use the technology say they've cracked it. A French company has developed a smart collar that emits radio waves to detect subtle changes. The same technology used for movement recognition in thePixel 4 is an old technology that was just recently miniaturized. It's tiny movements under the fur that are different from hand gestures.
The Invoxia uses small radar sensors to measure respiratory and heart rate. Credit: Invoxia
"No matter the type of fur, we will still be able to detect the movement of the skin and the speed of the movement," said Amelie Caudron, CEO of Invoxia. We're able to extract the heart rate and breathing rate from that. Their patented technology filters out extraneous movements. A third party is conducting a clinical validation study with Invoxia.
Doppler radar technology is being used by Dr. Hong-Dun Lin at the Industrial Technology Research Institute. A small sample of dogs and cats at the Hsinchu City Animal Protection and Health Inspection Office had their heart rate measured by iPetWeaR. The small, informal experiment showed promise. Lin, who has a PhD in electrical engineering, said they are testing iPetWeaR in collaboration with veterinarians.
Langless uses acoustic sensors instead of radar technology to detect your dog's mood. The Inupathy harness has a small microphone that records your dog's heart rate and HRV analysis to measure your dog's emotional state. HRV is an indicator of how your body adjusts to different environments.
Joji Yamaguchi, founder and CTO of Inupathy, said they compared their microphone system with an electrocardiogram monitor and achieved 90 percent accuracy. Inupathy has been tested on hundreds of dogs and has been developed with veterinarians and dog trainers in mind. The data is being used for research in Japan.
He is unconvinced because he hasn't seen any breakthrough in the last two years that would indicate the challenges have been solved. What critical issues did these companies solve that could not be solved for a long time? He sent an email. Why now and not two years ago or five years ago? Did their invention emerge recently?
iPetWeaR uses a radar to measure heart rate and respiratory rate. Credit: iPetWeaR
For the past six years, Guder has been researching and developing sensor technology for humans and dogs. He knows the landscape well and is studying it. These are really difficult problems. It will be difficult to convince people without showing the data.
In response to the skepticism, Caudron sounds confident about Invoxia's product. She said that it was quite interesting. We have data on several types of furs and several types of dogs, but we need to wait for the clinical validation.
The contactless motion detection is being used in devices to measure breathing. Lin's original idea was to use this technology for humans, but he realized it could be used for pets.
Dr. Ward remains skeptical until the validation studies are done. It's one thing to say I can fly and another thing to actually see me fly, so I'm still skeptical until you actually see it.
The evolving pet technology is one of the areas that Ward wants to see robust validation for. He wrote that the tech is sound, but it's the application and results that matter.
The Inupathy harness has lights that show different colors depending on your dog's mood. Credit: Inupathy
The stakes are high for any technology that promises health monitoring. What if a device wrongly diagnoses a heart arrhythmia? What if it doesn't detect one? Either scenario has consequences. FDA approval for animal devices is not required. "If you're going to invoke those types of claims, then we need some verification because the consumers just deserve it," said Ward.
An objective baseline is provided by the health metrics gathered over time. When it's shared with your vet, they can make a more accurate diagnosis. It's not like pet parents will get an alert that their dog is about to have a heart attack. It is still important that Invoxia is not meant to replace your dog's vet. The goal is to become like a cornerstone of the healthcare path for a dog, and to actually help the pet parents be more informed and go to the right service at the right time.
Other pet tech companies are cautious in their approach to new advances. "We are expecting technologies measuring these vitals and others to emerge over the next few years," wrote Jonathan Bensamoun, founder and CEO of Fi in an email. He said that they will be integrated into the Fi Collar as soon as they are reliable.
Terry Anderton noted the obstacles in getting an accurate measurement through fur in an email statement. While he declined to comment on future plans, he wrote that Wagz has been working on other types of sensors that can reliably penetrate the fur to obtain accurate measurements.
The question of why is still unanswered. How much of the data is useful to the average pet owner? "We tend to be chasing heart rate, but I would much rather know weight changes, because we can really do something about that," said Ward.
What are we supposed to do with this information if we aren't trained veterinary professionals? The answer seems to be to give the information to those who are trained in veterinary medicine. They can decide if it's worth acting on or not.