EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of exclusive blog posts for ECN that will explore the Internet of Things, inspired by element14’s new “Forget Me Not” design challenge. Read part one here.

The increasing popularity of the Internet of Things (IoT) is driven by a desire for connectivity, creeping into our daily routines at an exponential rate. The more we see of it and use it, the more we want from it. The adage of “if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk” couldn’t be more applicable to the usage of the Internet in our lives. This is where the impending IoT home revolution comes into play.

Forget Me Not

Home automation has been labeled the most popular category under the IoT umbrella. Roughly 44 percent of people are open to the idea of using remote home video monitoring, making the Forget Me Not Challenge all the more important.  Because the designs in our competition are intended for more widespread use, a key feature within each is compatibility. Technology is much harder to streamline when it involves learning how to operate a new device. With the Forget Me Not Challenge, finalists are crafting new technologies for home automation that, once installed, will sync straight to the phones and tablets homeowners are already using. This week in our Forget Me Not series, we explore the lighter side of IoT design – home automation for our pets.

Designs for Pet Lovers

Pet owners are estimated to spend more than $58 billion on their animals in 2014. The pet industry pulls at the heartstrings of consumers. More than 70 percent of pet parents feel guilty about leaving pets home alone while at work and worry about them while on vacation. IoT devices for pets are becoming all the rage in an attempt to provide solutions for these predicaments. It will continue to become an influential trend in the movement, as proven by our challenge where one of the most popular design categories is home automation for pets.

For example, Eric Tsai is creating both a dog barking monitor and runaway dog notifier for the Forget Me Not Challenge. The monitor will measure how loud a dog is barking, allowing users to turn on a webcam in their homes to determine what has the family pet so upset. The notifier will let owners know if their dog has strayed beyond its limits, and Eric is also hoping to create a mobile component that will allow pet owners to find their dogs if they do wander away from home. This has the potential to be incredibly helpful given the very small percentage of lost pets who are returned home.

Another hassle for pet parents is worrying about feeding their pets. Jay Morreale is crafting an attachment to a cat food bowl that will monitor how much food is in it, based upon the weight of the cat food. He’s even gone so far as to monitor the recommended caloric intake of each cat based on its weight. It will also register when food has been removed from the bowl, letting pet owners know their cat has eaten.

Frederick Vandenbosch is working to make a smart food and water dispenser for pets, equipped with temperature control capabilities. It will self-monitor the levels of food and water to only dispense when a bowl is nearly empty. The device won’t dispense more than a certain quantity per day to avoid overfeeding, and the water will be kept within a set temperature range. He also hopes to track how much a pet consumes by attaching a smart tag to its collar. This can help notify owners if eating habits are abnormal.

With the software and technology available today, there really are no limits as to what home automation can achieve. The Forget Me Not Challenge designers are just touching the tip of the iceberg in what the smart home of the future will look like. Pets are one of many categories that can be targeted by innovative automation. The next blog post will delve deeper into designs focusing on detecting emergencies in homes, helping homeowners prevent destructive and costly damage.  

About the Author

Christian DeFeo is the e-supplier and innovation manager at Newark element14, a global electronics distributor and online community of more than 250,000 design engineers and tech enthusiasts. Recently, he oversaw a “Smarter Life” design challenge at the element14 Community, in which engineers around the world developed connected devices and appliances.