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Playdate Launches First Ever Smart Ball That Allows Pet Owners To Play With Their Pets Remotely

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Many of us hate leaving our pets home because we fear they will become lonely or bored. Boredom is not only unhealthy, but a bored pet can get into trouble, like the garbage or destroying your couch. A brand new toy is going to allow you play with your pet even when you are not at home, keeping them from getting lonely/bored. PlayDate lets dog and cat owners play with their pets from anywhere. Owners can control the ball from their iOS or Android devices using our free app. Or they can login through the PlayDate website and play from their Mac or PC. A camera mounted inside the ball shows the pet as well as the environment around them. The company was founded on the belief that human-pet interaction could be improved using technology.

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One of the co-founders, Kevin Li, has a background working in technology for AT&T. He told iHeartDogs he started playing with activity tech on his own dog two years ago, when the idea for the PlayDate came to him:

We started thinking about PlayDate about two years ago. I had just adopted Hulk, a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, from a no-kill shelter and became obsessed with training him. I wanted to make sure he was smelling a variety of things and tried to make sure that I took him to different parts of the city on our walks. This was back in 2013 and there weren’t any activity trackers for dogs on the market. At the time I was a researcher at AT&T Labs working on new ways of interacting with technology including wearable devices and activity tracking. So, I applied the latest research results from activity recognition, built a dog tracking collar and strapped it onto Hulk for our walks around the city. That worked pretty well and late last year we thought about trying to commercialize it.

But, they found was that dog owners weren’t looking for activity trackers – they wanted a way to interact with their pet when they left them home.

“That’s when I realized the bigger problem that needed solving was dog owners needed a better way to interact with their pets remotely,” Li said.  “As we started building out prototypes and showing them to our friends, we learned that cat owners love the idea too. But cat owners have slightly different needs so we’ve been modifying the design of the cat version for their needs (e.g. ribbon holder on the outer shell).”

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How It Works

Pet owners can control their PlayDate smart ball in the same way you might control a character in a smartphone game. There is a navigation controller on the left. On the right, there are buttons that trigger actions like playing a “squeak” or taking a picture/recording video. Similar to a hamster ball, the PlayDate smart ball rolls around wherever the pet owner directs it. A stabilized camera inside lets the owner see all the action in smooth, real-time HD. And, a clear, replaceable outer shell protects the inner workings but allows the camera to see out clearly.

Right now their prototype is 4 inches in diameter and they’ve been testing that with both dogs and cats. They are also currently developing a 3 inch version for cats and smaller dogs.

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Key Features:

  • Replaceable outer shell – durability and safety are super important for us. That’s why we’ve made the outer shell out of thick shatterproof polycarbonate. And over time folks can replace just the outer shell, extending the lifespan of the toy, which is unheard of when it comes to pet toys.
  • Virtual squeaker – plays a squeak sound when the “squeak” button is pressed
  • Microphone – Users can hear their pets through a microphone in the ball
  • Speaker – Users can talk to their pets through a speaker in the ball
  • Save Photos – A button allows users to snap photos while playing with their pet
  • Record Video – Users can record video of their pet playing with the PlayDate smart ball
  • Works on carpet!

Unlike the other camera-enabled devices out there, this is the only one that lets you move around to follow your pet. This idea was a brainchild of Li’s after he used other cameras with his own dog: “I setup one of the webcam-based solutions at home to see what Hulk was doing when I wasn’t at home, but he’d often be out of the camera’s view.”
PlayDate’s smart ball is the only remote pet toy available with two-way interaction.

Check out this video of the PlayDate in action with Hulk, Li’s rescue:

And here is Thelma the cat testing it out as well:

How To Get Your Hands On One

If you think this is the toy you’ve been waiting for, well you are going to have to wait a bit longer. Today, the company just launched their crowdfunding campaign to raise the last of the manufacturing funds they need. So, the quickest way to get one is to pre-order it on their Indiegogo campaign, here.  If you snag one here, it will be delivered in December 2016. Otherwise, the smart ball will be available for direct purchase in early 2017.

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