Back in February I chaired the IBF’s Consumer Health and Wellness Innovation Summit. When I wrote about it on my blog, I closed by describing a tongue-in-cheek conversation I had with a fellow investor about how the company pitches kept veering to the pet food/service market. To excerpt myself:
As I and my table-mate, a well-known medical device investor, watched a presentation about FitBits and other devices for tracking fitness, he leaned over to me and said, “Now I bet there’s a pet market for that too,” suggesting that people would fork over plenty of cash to put a step tracker on Rover’s collar.
So it turns out this guy was more prescient than we both thought, as today I have seen it all. It’s not bad enough that actual humans are running around wired for sound with so many devices that there is a rapidly growing market for Batman utility belts, but lo and behold, Fujitsu is launching a “smart dog collar” that is, for all intents and purposes, a FitBit for Fido, complete with smart phone data access. God help us all.
Today in Mashable, the “largest independent online news site dedicated to covering digital culture, social media and technology,” was an article under this headline: Smart Collar Transmits Doggie Health Reports to the Cloud.
The article starts with this lead: Ever wonder how your dog is feeling during a run in the park or how your pet is doing while home alone?
Answer according to me: Um, yeah, occasionally, but not enough to set up a nanny cam and put a full metal jacket of electrodes on the little critter. And the cloud? Seriously? The cloud isn’t cluttered up enough with photos of what people are eating and how many steps they took to get to the refrigerator? What is the world coming to? The whole Quantified Self movement is strange enough when it comes to people (tweet my weight? Um, not gonna happen), but I pity the pup that gets forced to play along. Do you know how hard it is to navigate a smart phone with paws?
Fujitsu’s official press release offers this rationale for their new offering:
In recent years, owners have been taking greater interest in maintaining the health of their pets as they have come to be recognized as members of the family. While pets are living longer lives, they also increasingly face the same kinds of lifestyle diseases as humans, including obesity and diabetes. To prevent illnesses in pets, it is important that their daily activities be monitored, as is the case for humans.
In order to help dog owners manage the health of their pets using ICT, Fujitsu has leveraged its sensing technologies for humans gained in the development of the company’s mobile phones and other technologies, and has adapted them for a device that can monitor a dog’s activity levels. This new product will be employed in a cloud service that provides pet owners with assistance in managing the health of pets. Going forward, Fujitsu plans to provide this technology and service as a way to offer added peace of mind for pet owners who take the health of their pets seriously.
So what’s next? Wellness incentive programs to encourage the dog to wear the monitor? If you reward a dog with biscuits, aren’t you just contributing to their obesity problem? I guess the whole discussion of carrots vs. sticks takes on a whole different meeting with dogs, as they definitely prefer sticks. Maybe there will be new exclusions of coverage from pet insurance if Fluffy doesn’t report in on the number of balls he has chased each day. Should we expect to see disease management programs for dogs next? Will they employ cats to monitor the outliers? Will the cats have to be licensed? Do pets have HIPAA concerns?
The irony of this, of course, is that the reason the dogs are fat and pre-diabetic is because they are sitting on their furry butts next to their TV-watching owners rather than out pounding the pavement or running after owner-thrown Frisbees. And those same dog owners who are so worried about Rover’s fluctuating glucose levels may well themselves have a drawer full of under-utilized FitBits and BodyBuggs because it’s damned hard to get pet owners to effectively manage their own health for sustained periods of time.
I am pretty confident that the only thing my dog is interested in tracking is the velocity at which it can catch food that drops from the counter. My extensive research as a dog-owner has demonstrated that my dog sits down and refuses to move when it is tired and shivers when it’s cold. OK, it is a Chihuahua so it sometimes shivers because it is alive, but by and large I don’t need a device to tell the difference. I get how much people love their pets–I am one of those crazy people–but wow. A “fitbit” for the dog? Won’t my cats think that I care less about them?
Maybe that’s where Fujitsu goes next! A whole line of pet monitors personalized to each species’ particular wellness needs. The catbit can monitor hairball production and give incentive points for every drawer and cabinet opened while I am at work. Extra point credit given for tearing around the house at top speed after midnight.
The goldfishbit can track bubble production and give owners a warning signal when Goldie floats belly up for an unhealthy period of time.
The turtlebit can likely be sold for a discount as, given turtle speed, the accelerometer may well be optional.
Hamsters, Guinea pigs, potbelly pigs, the possibilities are endless. Just think of the data that will be amassed. Next up: Big data application for pet care. In the cloud. Veterinarians, start your servers.
Recently market research firm ABI Research predicted that in five years the number of wearable wireless health and fitness devices will hit 169.5 million, up from almost 21 million such devices in 2011. What they didn’t tell us was how this would be segmented between two- and four-legged mammals. According to the U.S. Humane Society there are approximately 78.2 million owned dogs in the United States living in 39% of U.S. households. Maybe this wireless wearable device market is even bigger than they thought.