It’s anything but a dog’s life

Smart technology is changing how we interact with animals

By Antoinette Price

Our lives, work, and the way we take care of our health continue to evolve. The internet of things (IoT) and smart technology have disrupted industries as diverse as agriculture, construction, healthcare and industrial automation. They are already having an impact on the pet industry and how we treat domesticated animals.

Tracking pets with smart collars Pets can be tracked and located using smart collars (Photo: tractive.com)

What’s good for the human is good for the animal

A report by Euromonitor International explains some of the demographic factors driving the increasing number of homes with small pets. For example, smaller pets are better suited to the reduced living spaces typically found in the growing numbers of urban areas (whether in developed or developing countries), and aging populations find smaller pets easier to care for.

Surveys and reports from around the world are also now highlighting the so-called humanization trend, which sees pets being treated like human family members. This is true in Australia, parts of Asia, Europe and North America.

One less desirable effect of humanization is the rise in animal obesity. Many owners exercise less than was the case previously and don’t walk their pets enough. They also feed them too much overall or give them too many of the wrong things.

An expanding industry

These trends indicate a booming pet industry, and a plethora of services is on offer. They include pet day care and both simple and luxury hotels that cater for birds, cats, dogs and rabbits. Quality foods, toys and accessories including connected devices and wearables are also available.

Even if some owners neglect the health of their pets, there is still a growing market for pet health and safety. Wearable technology developed for people has been adapted for pets. According to Transparency Market Research, the global market for pet wearables is expected to reach USD 2,5 billion by 2024.

Standards for wearables

e-tech has already reported on the explosion in wearables for monitoring human fitness and health. As far as animals are concerned, the most common wearables are collars and leg bands, but the technology and how it is delivered continues to evolve.

Given the significant growth of the wearables industry for both people and animals over the last five years, IEC Technical Committee (TC) 124 was established earlier this year to develop International Standards for wearable electronic devices. They include patchable, implantable and edible materials and devices, as well as e-textiles.

The TC will follow trends and technology developments in order to produce Standards which cover aspects such as terminology and measuring and evaluating methods for materials used in different wearable devices and packages. They will also deal with wearable power sources, systems, applications, services and related interfaces, including connectivity.

Several other IEC TCs are already involved in standardization activities for the components found in wearable technology. For instance, IEC TC 21 deals with the batteries which power wearables, IEC TC 47 handles the testing, design, use and reuse of sensors, IEC TC 100 covers audio, video and multimedia equipment, while IEC TC 110 is responsible for electronic display devices.

Another key aspect of wearables is the transfer of the data they gather, for example, from the smart pet collar, to the pet owner's phone, who can monitor the animal’s health and location. IEC and ISO have established a Joint Technical Committee for information technology (ISO/IEC JTC 1). Standards for telecommunications and information exchange between systems, such as the above mentioned data, are produced by one of its subcommittees, ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 6.

Tech for very important pets

Smart collars for cats and dogs are rechargeable, detachable and waterproof. As well as tracking location and monitoring fitness, they can:

  • track a dog or cat’s vital signs, steps, sleep, mood swings, behaviour and diet, allowing owners to improve overall health and reduce vet bills in the process
  • allow cats to open and close cat flaps
  • train dogs to drop annoying habits such as incessant barking or going where they shouldn’t by using tones and vibrations for conditioning
  • detect if a pet is in danger of drowning, using water sensors, or warn owners that the pet they have left in the car may be getting too hot, using heat sensors
  • send pet owners alerts for upcoming vaccination appointments

Connecting cows

Pets aside, leg band wearables and radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which can be attached to the ear, are being used to improve farming methods and animal well-being. These technologies and their systems save farmers time and money, while keeping animals healthy and happy.

They monitor vital signs and habits, alert farmers to potential illnesses and diseases before they have a chance to spread and enhance breeding and milk production techniques. The tag or band provides the location of each animal in real time, allowing farmers to segregate and treat them rapidly as required (Find out more in e-tech issue 04/2017: Texting cows and talking fields).

Tracking wildlife

While RFID is usually a short range technology and is therefore not suitable for tracking wildlife over long distances, a number of conservation research projects have used it in enclosed areas to monitor the behaviour of endangered species such as elephants and rhinos.

The work of ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 31 covers automatic identification and data capture (AIDC) techniques. The Subcommittee publishes International Standards for bar code symbologies and RFID labels and tags. These contain electronically-stored information, such as a personal ID number for each animal within the smart tracking system.

Looking ahead

Wearables are put to many uses in diverse fields. Smart collars monitor animal health and fitness and smart watches to do the same for people. Innovative materials with embedded wearables help save lives in military or emergency services first responders' context, while smart glasses save time and improve manufacturing and warehouse picking processes.

IEC follows these evolving technologies and will continue to develop International Standards to ensure that the components of wearables and their operating systems are safe, reliable and function properly.

Gallery
Animal obesity is on the rise One in three cats is overweight in the UK (Photo: PDSA, UK)
Smart devices for pets Pets still get their meals when owners are out with smart feeders (Photo: petnet.io)
Tracking pets with smart collars Pets can be tracked and located using smart collars (Photo: tractive.com)