Wonder what your cat is doing while you’re at work all day? Sony Computer Science Laboratories has partnered with researchers at The University of Tokyo to develop [email protected], a gadget that combines GPS, a digital camera, Wi-Fi and an acceleration sensor to enable Twitter updates on what your cat is doing. The GPS tracks location, and the acceleration sensor interprets what the cat is doing — such as walking, sleeping or eating. A camera then snaps pics from a collar-eye view. Every now and then, all this data is sent wirelessly to a home computer that posts a Twitter status update (e.g., “this tastes good” while your cat is eating), complete with tweet pics.
Technology for You and Your Cat
For now, [email protected] represents the latest cat-gadget trend. The high-tech trend has increasingly crept into the pet product industry, according to Bob Vetere, president of the American Pet Products Association.
“It’s reflective of what goes on on the human side, especially as some of the younger generation start turning to pets,” he says. “More and more, you see them look for the same kind of techy things for their cats as they want for themselves.”
The APPA’s 2010 Pet Products Trend Report cites high-tech items as one of the areas where products for animals now extend beyond traditional necessities. Vetere gives some specific examples:
Self-cleaning Litter Boxes
These models of cat sanitation sense when your kitty has done its business and activate rakes that clear waste into covered waste compartments. The tray and compartment are disposable, making them scoop-free and mostly hands-off.
Estimated price: $100
Automated water fountains are a fresh replacement to the traditional water bowl, especially for houses with multiple cats. Constantly flowing water inhibits bacterial growth better than stagnant water can. Many models have variable flow rates.
Estimated price: $30
Automatic Food Dispensers
These dispenser/bowl combos are useful in two ways: They keep your cat from running out of food, but they can also prevent kitty from eating too much. Lower-priced models are good for a few meals and use gravity to dispense food, while high-end models are electronic, programmable and can feed your cat for a week or more.
Estimated price: $10 to $180
“All three [of the above products] are perfect for people with a mobile lifestyle,” says Vetere. “People are trying to find things that keep their pets happy as they’re away more.”
Anyone who’s used their laser pointer as a cat toy rather than for PowerPoint presentations knows cats find them irresistible. It’s no surprise that a few products take this idea to the next level. Such a toy can be used manually or left in auto, hands-free mode (with rotating laser patterns) so your cat can play with it alone on the floor.
Estimated price: $15
Motorized/Robotic Cat Toys
Motorized toys free up your hands to record funny footage of your cat. Toys can include mice scurrying under a cover, unpredictable robotic arms that chirp like a bird while waving feathers, and “talking,” motion-activated treat dispensers.
Estimated price: $20 to $30
GPS Tracking Devices
GPS technology can be precise to within a few feet, which takes a lot of the guesswork out of finding a lost cat.
Estimated price: $200 to $300
For those who are simply curious about where their cat regularly goes, a less expensive option is a GPS “logger,” which tracks locations but doesn’t transmit the data in real time. When you and your cat reunite, connect the logger to your computer, and you’ll get a neat visual illustration of his or her route laid over a satellite view.
Estimated price: $100 to $150
As for the [email protected], eager early adopters will have to wait. It is still just a prototype being showcased at technology conferences. The product and pricing are being perfected before the [email protected] is available to consumers.