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August 30, 2017

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s certainly been the impetus in developing interactive cat toys to give felines that have an indoor lifestyle the mental and physical stimulation needed for their overall well-being.

The inspiration for the Petzi treat cam from pet technology company Petzila was co-founder Simon Milner’s cat, Cilla. The company’s name was originally PetCilla and morphed into Petzila.

Five years ago, Milner, was a hardcore technologist in Silicon Valley who had gone into retirement. While exploring tracking devices and ways to get updates on his elderly father, it occurred to Milner that it’s not only the elderly who are home alone, but also pets—including Cilla.

“These days, when people leave home and are mobile, they are relying on technology to remain connected. So it made sense to me to use this technology to extend our relationships with our pets,” Milner explained.

He teamed with David Clark and, together, they began to explore ways to get pets connected on the internet.

“I looked at all the gadgets and accessories my cat had, such as a leash, food bowl, toys, a litter tray, and we finally settled on treats backed by the research done with Pavlov’s dog because it could facilitate a mutually rewarding interaction and experience,” Milner said.

“We further discovered that 80 percent of our users used the push-totalk feature on the unit to have fullon conversations with their pets every time they dispensed treats,” Milner added. “The product is simply a point of implementation for a much richer platform that we are continuing to build out.”

The company’s next wave of integrated technology will allow the Petzi treat cam to interact with
gadgets such as Amazon’s Alexa, and Milner promises new ways to connect with other family members are in the pipeline.

Milner said that many pet specialty retailers have been slow to connect the word “tech” with the word “pet.”

“Pet store customers are programmed to expect certain experiences in pet specialty environments and don’t associate a more expensive piece of technology/hardware as part of that shopping experience,” he said. “But these days, pet tech is an established category, and I have no doubt that it will grow in the specialty retail space. This push will be driven by millennials who are caring, responsible pet owners. It’s not about replacing human interaction with pet tech gadgets but ways of integrating this technology to truly enhance the pet experience and improve the lives of our pets.”

Dispensing Treats
The Petcube Play offers pet owners the opportunity to pre-program laser games to entertain their cat when they are home alone. The inspiration for this fun interactive gadget was Petcube founder and CTO Alex Neskin’s Chihuahua, Rocky, who hated being home alone and caused a perennial ruckus.

Neskin created an Arduino-based robot that consisted of a web camera and a remote-controlled laser pointer. He was able to play with Rocky through a web interface and distract him from barking. Next, he took this prototype to a Kickstarter campaign, and the Petcube Play became commercially available in 2014.

“Our software is constantly being updated, and we are always rolling out new features. For example, we have added Facebook live-stream integration, so users can live-stream their pets to their personal Facebook page or Facebook fan page,” Neskin said.

The company will be introducing an interactive treat cam called Petcube Bites. The company has teamed with Wellness, and samples of Wellness dog and cat treats will be included with the purchase of the treat cam, which in fact holds two pounds of treats and has built-in sensors to notify pet owners when the supply is running low.

Laser Toys
And, of course, there is no question that cats love interactive laser toys. The very first FroliCat laser toy, the Bolt, was brought to market by Alan Cook, founder of Lucky Litter (ScoopFree and FroliCat products) who ultimately sold the brand to PetSafe.

“Our strategy following the success of the Bolt has been to find innovative ways to encourage the cat to play with the toy, while also maintaining the high-quality and sleek design, similar to the Bolt,” explained Mandie Sweetman, product manager for cat toys at PetSafe.

“It is surprisingly challenging to create electronic cat toys,” she said. “My tuxedo cats Fig and Aro are my inspiration for decisions on many toys because, honestly, they’ve seen it all. Cats can be a tough crowd; they have incredibly high standards! When they snub a toy, I know I need to go back to the drawing board.”

To date, the FroliCat line includes the Pounce, the Whimsy, the Cheese, the Flitter Teaser, the FroliCat Fox Den, the FroliCat Rolorat and the FroliCat MULTI LASER, featuring two lasers for cats to chase.

According to Hannah Rosenberg, research and design development manager of cat supplies for Petlinks by Worldwise, Inc., the company’s e-toys such as the Flitter Fly that allows cats to chase feathers that fly around a bowl, and Stir Crazy Electronic Motion Cat Toy are developed around the premise of how cats intuitively play.

“As a team, our designers and product managers come from diverse backgrounds,” Rosenberg explained. “After the decisions have been made, we look at the limitations (child safety issues and adhering to child safety standards in all toys, pet safety, price and materials). All these factors are taken into account before the product can be prototyped.

That’s when we call in our team of feline testers—Minnie, Bob, Buttons and Anderson Cooper (all cats of Worldwise employees)—along with a variety of awesome cats at our local Humane Society to make sure the toy meets the criteria needed to provide an excellent interactive play experience.”

Pet Tech in Retail
Errin West, co-owner of The Cat Connection all-feline store in Dallas, Texas, agrees with Milner’s opinion on pet tech gadgets in a pet retail space.

“When it comes to interactive toys or pet tech devices, there is no substitute for human interaction,” West said. “Cats know this better than humans do! Electronic toys are fun and we do sell them, but ultimately, my customers know it’s simply a toy along with any other.

“I am certainly not opposed to stocking pet tech gadgets either,” she continued. “But in this age of specialization, I believe that my customers are more likely to shop for them in an electronics store than in a pet retail environment. But it’s very possible as more gadgets come to market, that this will change. And that they will become a viable category within the pet retail space.”

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