On paper, it sounded like an absurd idea—a pair of neuroscientists from San Diego launching a game console created for dogs. But, when all was said and done, the guys from CleverPet raced past a field of smart home devices and virtual reality accessories to take first prize in a CES startup competition. The reward? A free booth at this evening’s Showstopper event.
In many ways, that victory is a sign of how digital our lives have become. The halls here are filled with devices that track our health, adjust the temperature in our bedrooms, log the groceries in our refrigerators, water the lawn and tell us when the front door is unlocked. If you really want to know what the connected home can do, just take a look at all the monitoring devices available for the nursery.
So why not welcome the family pet to the party? Not with a canine locator or a canine health monitor—those have already been invented—but rather with a digital entertainment device.
Designed (with help from IDEO co-founder Mike Nuttal) by a pair of animal lovers each with a Ph.D. in neuroscience, the CleverPet hub provides bored canines with mental stimulation. Instead of sleeping the day away, the pooches get to solve puzzles. The speakers on the white-plastic console emit various sounds and tones, and three touchpads light up in colors from the blue-to-yellow spectrum (which dogs can see).
To earn a kernel of dog food from the console’s spout, your pet must recognize and remember patterns in the lights and sounds. The riddles start simple and get more complex.
Some dogs take to the games right away. Others need a little coaxing. CleverPet has an app that can walk you through the process. And while teaching your dog to master memory games might sound like a big hurdle, CleverPet co-founder Daniel Knudsen points out that mice and rats have been doing it for a long time—in science labs all over the world. “We’re just bringing the concept to the consumer market,” he says.
Right now, the plan is to bring the product to market in mid-April. You can preorder it online through January 10 for $269. Knudsen and fellow founder Leo Trottier hope to eventually add other smart products (think balls and other items a dog might retrieve) to turn your home into a virtual playground.
They also think the device can be used as a training tool.
Needless to say, Trottier made all of those points with aplomb in his five-minute pitch on the CES LaunchIt stage. It didn’t hurt that he had video of dogs—really cute dogs—playing his games to share with the audience. He also had a pitch-perfect sense of humor. To the delight of the four judges, who were assembled to make sure each product had market potential, he ended his closing statement with this line: “Our users literally have nothing better to do with their time.”
In the end, though, it wasn’t the video or the joke that won people over. It was the fact that Trottier wasn’t chasing a hot trend like virtual reality or the Internet of Things. He used technology available to almost anyone to solve a unique problem—one that he convincingly argued needs solving. Let’s see if other animal lovers agree with him.
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