The one place where wearables actually make sense: on animals

Move over Google Glass and Fitbit: Dogs, cows, fish and even crabs are getting connected in their own wearable ways

Wearables
Credit: wikimedia

The idea of people wearing “technology” fuels uncountable market projections, business plans, futurist fantasies, pontifications, and tech ecstasies. But it’s all hogwash, because hogs, along with cattle, and other forms of livestock, and wild creatures (including endangered species), not to mention your pets, are actually the creatures most naturally suited to wearables. They’re not interested in the Fashion Aspect of wearable tech, for one thing. And for another, driven by instinct, they don’t have to worry about the deleterious effects of multi-tasking as humans do. Here’s why the Wearables Market is maturing first in the Animal Kingdom.

Wearables
The animal market

Research firm IDTechEx recently forecast that the global market for animal wearables will be $2.6 billion in 2025. Currently, the big demand is for wearables to track and identify animals. The big growth areas will be in medical diagnosis and treatment.

Wearables
Credit: Northwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA, Seattle
Drilled salmon

Pray that Apple takes a different approach to wearables from injecting a RFID passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag somewhere into your body cavity. That’s what the federal National Marine Fisheries Service is doing with wild chinook salmon in the Idaho wilderness. The RFID tags and associated readers, antennas, battery packs and solar charging gear are part of an ongoing project to evaluate stream habitats for salmon and measure salmon populations. They’re using the tagging system developed by Biomark of Boise, Idaho, whose customers have tagged everything from abalone to wood rats (or pack rats).

Wearables
Credit: Voyce
Unconditional doglove

Voyce is a startup that got widespread coverage at the Consumer Electronics Show 2014, in part by showing images of utterly adorable, loveable dogs, wearing the company’s wireless collar that measures and tracks “key vital signs and other wellness indicators,” like behavior and weight, data that “provides you with trends and valuable insights, helping you stay proactive about your dog’s overall health, behavior, and wellbeing,” which you can stay on top of via the companion mobile app. “As Voyce gets to know your dog, you’ll receive customized tips, expert advice, relevant articles, and more….you’ll get closer to understanding how your dog is feeling, thinking, and behaving.” Projected to cost $300, the collar apparently has not yet been released, even for pre-ordering.

Wearables
Unconditional James Bond dog

Technically, this Office of Naval Research project is known as “Autonomous Navigation and Control of a K-9,” by the GPS and Vehicle Dynamics Lab at Auburn University in Alabama. The goal is to be able to command an “augmented dog” by long-distance voice, in conjunction with sensors and GPS waypoints, for tasks such as surveillance, search and rescue, and delivery of medical supplies, with minimal or no human contact or intervention.

Wearables
The illuminated tail

Tail Lights is a Woodland Hills, Calif., startup born from an accident: the founder’s horse was struck by a car at night and badly injured, needing thousands of dollars in vet services. The tail light is just what it sounds like: six strands with over 500 colored LEDs, powered by a 15 to 26 hour lithium ion battery, three brightness levels, and a special fitting that lets the light strands fall over and down a horse’s tail. A single-color unit starts at $450. (Hat tip to Matthew Burgess, who included this in his own “wearable tech for pets” story at Factor.)

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Ending endless barking

The worst kind of barking is the kind that never ends. Welcome to the exciting world of behavior modification. High Tech Pet Products, of Ventura, Calif., offers the new and improved Bark Buster Sonic Bark Control Collar: a 2.3-ounce device, powered by a 9-volt battery, with a microprocessor that senses your dog’s bark and then “emits a painless, humane tone” instead of a jet of water or an electric shock in response. “We like to think of the Bark Buster as kind of a Chinese water torture for barking dogs,” the website cheerfully proclaims. “At first your pet will scarcely notice it. But, after about 48 hours it will do anything to turn it off!”

Wearables
Pets need fitness training too

Now you can share your obsession with your own health and fitness with your pet. Otto PetCare Systems, a London startup, offers a tracking device with accelerometers and gyroscopes, through which you slip your pet’s collar. It collects data on the animal’s activity, uses an embedded Wi-Fi radio to transmit the data to OPCS’ cloud service, where it’s accessed via a mobile app. (The app also lets you connect to the companion wireless, programmable food dispenser, complete with webcam and microphone/loudspeaker.) Otto Activity Tracker is $119; the food dispenser with webcam is $269. Both ship in June 2014.

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Have a cow

Researchers at Kansas State University have been working on wearable systems for continuously assessing cattle health. One project was the Bovine Mobile Observation Operation (BMOO), which combined wearable and swallowable commercial and custom sensors, and a Bluetooth link to relay data to a handheld or laptop computer. (Details are at a paper (PDF), “Wearable Sensor System for Wireless State-of-Health Determination in Cattle”.) As shown, the main board has a microcontroller and storage (A and B), GPS unit with embedded antenna (C), attached ear tag (D) for measuring blood oxygen and pulse, ingestible bolus (E) with temp sensor and low-power Bluetooth radio to link with handheld receiver (F).

Wearables
24-hour cows

SCR offers a range of cattle management systems, based on activity and rumination sensors. The sensors are packed into the wearable Heataime HR LD tag, which combines sensors for rumination activity (ruminants have a chambered stomach that lets them rechew food to aid digestion and extract nutrients) and heat detection with a special microphone that lets a dairy farmer listen to rumination to detect potential problems. The tag also acts as a unique cow identifier. Accurate heat detection is critical for optimizing insemination. The data is transmitted several times hourly via an embedded RF transmitter. (A similar system is by Scotland-based Silent Herdsman.)

Wearables
Improving crab life

Technically, the crabs here are not wearing technology, but they are, in a sense, swimming in it – surrounded by an environment of sensors. It’s not hard to envision wearable devices, for humans or animals, that respond based on what those sensors are telling them. In 2011, Ericsson worked with crab farmers in China, installing in crab ponds wireless sensors to track temperature, acidity, alkalinity and dissolved oxygen. Tiny changes in these variables can interfere with breeding or even be fatal. Collected data was transmitted to a cloud-based system for monitoring and analysis. A custom Android app sent alerts to crab farmers, and they could send instructions to oxygen pumps or other controllers.

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Animal social networks

Almost a decade ago, researchers at MIT's Media Lab developed SNIF: Social Network in Fur, which "allows pet owners to interact through their pets' social networks" and thereby "enhance the pet owning experience." The kit included a collar with LED, IR and RF transceivers and various sensors; a leash with a two-way radio, LED display and input buttons; and a wall-mounted leash docking station. The collar records the IDs of other dogs and you discover which dogs your own likes or dislikes and know when they're out and about in the pet network through a Web connection.

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Sweating mares

A jump in a mare’s sweating or lying down can indicate foaling is near or be a sign of illness. Sweden-based LUDA Elektronik created horseAlarm with two built-in sensors to detect both activities. A special harness holds the device, with three AAA batteries, in place. It has an 800-meter range, with a GSM cellular option. You can adjust the alarm sensitivity and customize the alarms to suit each horse.