As any pet owner knows, our four-legged friends have a knack for getting into tricky situations. Whether it’s taking themselves for an impromptu walk, wriggling under the house, eating a sock or getting into a tussle with something they shouldn’t, an extra pair of eyes and ears to keep a look out is always needed.
While a full-time pet sitter is an unlikely option, data and technology science is providing the next best thing. After releasing ‘a fit bit for cows’ in 2018, Ceres Tag in collaboration with CSIRO’s Data61 are developing a prototype smart tracker for cats and dogs.
The Companion Collar will be able to track an animal’s movements in real-time, sending updates to the owner’s phone whenever their pet wanders outside of a virtual boundary they established.
Other crucial information such as specific behaviours, out of the ordinary activity and data for health metrics will also be calculated continuously on the Companion Collar and uploaded to the cloud via the home BLE (Bluetooth Low Energy) network or smartphone app.
Unlike similar products on the market, the collar uses both Bluetooth and satellite communications to track and communicate a pet’s location.
“The Companion Collar is a hybrid of two different communication technologies, utilising the benefits of both,” explains Dr Phil Valencia, a Data61 Senior Research Engineer with over two decades of experience developing low-power wireless network technologies for animal monitoring.
“The Companion Collar uses Data61’s EIP (Embedded Intelligence Platform) and BLE technology to determine if the pet is nearby, automatically switching to satellite communications when the collar is outside of the home network.”
The need for a robust tracking device that allows a pet to be located when it’s nearby or a significant distance away has been a pain point for consumers for some time, says Dr Valencia, with owners often having to compromise.
"Many devices only employ Bluetooth or WiFi-based tracking, which often involve a community of people to be ‘listening’ on their phones and sharing their location data with a service in order to report the heard tracking device. This method is also only suitable for short distance monitoring.”
“The other approach is a cellular-based tracker with a corresponding plan. These devices are often expensive, require cellular coverage and use a large amount of power, making them susceptible to weekly, if not even more frequent, charging.”
The Companion Collar requires monthly charging, but is dependent on the amount of wandering your four-legged friend does. Homebodies who remain within the virtual boundary will trigger the device’s automatic power saving mode that only uses Bluetooth, but an adventurer will switch it to GPS location and direct satellite reporting.
Activity, or lack of if you’re a cat owner, plays a crucial role in determining the health and wellbeing of an animal. Using learnings applied to the smart ear tag for cattle, Data61 researchers are developing a library of machine learning classifiers that identify, monitor and analyse pet behaviour.
“With our cattle devices, we’re able to classify a variety of animal behaviours, such as drinking, resting, ruminating, standing, grazing and sleeping,” explains Dr Valencia.
“We’re bringing a similar approach to the Companion Collar for a focus towards typical pet behaviours, such as scratching, eating, barking, running and sleeping.”
“Owners will get valuable insights into how their pet has behaved throughout the day, with the system identifying if the animal’s activity is above or below its typical levels, and whether it was significantly different at a certain time of day.”
Insights such as this will lay the foundation for personalised pet treatment and medication, says Ceres Tag Chief Operating Officer Lewis Frost, who argues the collar will vastly improve the health and welfare of domestic pets.
“Ceres is leveraging all its learnings from the livestock smart tag development to create a superior product in the pet companion industry utilising the skills of our very capable development team.”
The Companion Collar is the latest project in a longstanding partnership between Ceres Tag and Data61, with CSIRO’s Kick–Start program making this project possible.
CSIRO Kick-Start is an initiative for innovative Australian start-ups and small businesses, providing funding and support for innovative Australian start-ups and small businesses to access CSIRO’s research and development (R&D) expertise and capabilities.
The CSIRO Kick-Start program provides dollar-matched funding vouchers of between AUD$10,000-$50,000 and access to CSIRO expertise and capabilities to help grow and develop their business.