With Americans spending an estimated $24 billion on pet food this year, the addition of IoT technology that can automatically reorder dog or cat food from Amazon.com could have pet owners wagging their tails.
Soon, Obe will release its smart pet food bowl, dubbed the “ProBowl”, which features Amazon’s Dash Replenishment Service (DRS). At its core, DRS makes it possible for connected devices to order consumables through Amazon when related supplies dwindle.
Device makers have the option of incorporating a button into their hardware to reorder supplies, or they can track supply so automatic reordering occurs. Obe has opted for the latter when it comes to replenishing low supplies of dog or cat food.
PYMNTS recently spoke with Hilary Jensen Wade, co-founder and CEO of Obe, to discuss how her startup formed a partnership with Amazon with an eye toward improving Obe’s product.
The first 100 units of the ProBowl will come out in September, Wade said, adding that Obe will be the first to market in the pet category with DRS on Amazon.com. Preorders for the dog bowl, which will come in small, medium and large sizes, and the cat bowl can be placed on the company’s website.
Staying connected to pets via Wi-Fi
Amir Pelleg, director of Amazon Dash, said in a recent email exchange with PYMNTS that each connected device integrated with DRS is a little different. For example, a device may use a sensor or it may use an algorithm around known usage patterns to recognize when a product needs to be reordered, he said.
“With Dash Replenishment Service, device makers don’t have to build the back-end infrastructure to fulfill orders. Amazon does this work for them, leveraging its authentication and payment systems, customer service and ful llment network,” Pelleg said.
Dozens of brands are currently part of the DRS program, while several other device makers will join that list soon, including Obe, August, Brother, CleverPet, GE, Hershey Company, Neato Robotics, Samsung, simplehuman, Vivint and Whirlpool.
Unlike traditional pet food bowls, ProBowl features a smart base that connects with Wi-Fi and has a built-in scale that weighs food and water. When the bowl is filled with the correct amount of food, it lights up, but if too much food is dispensed, ProBowl tells the caretaker.
ProBowl, which calculates appropriate meal sizes based on veterinarian recommendations, can make automatic adjustments to meal portions based on a pet’s activity levels and current metabolism.
Pet owners can determine what type of noti cations they have sent to their mobile device with updates on whether the dog or cat needs to be fed by downloading the smart iOS app. After giving some consideration to Bluetooth, Wade said Obe ultimately went with Wi-Fi because it provides real-time access via mobile devices.
Once the app is downloaded to a mobile device, consumers then pick the kind of food they feed their pet by either selecting it from a dropdown menu or scanning the product’s barcode. If the product is one of the thousands of pet foods Amazon sells online, they can opt-in to the DRS.
Pet owners can oversee meal times and remind whomever is looking after the pet to feed it. By receiving notications, which can be determined by pet owners, it in theory eliminates the need for pet owners to call, text or leave a note for whoever is caring for their dog or cat.
“The amount of time that people spend worrying and actively communicating about whether the dog or cat is being taken care of and fed is substantial,” Wade said. “The dog may play the ‘I haven’t been fed’ game and try to work you over. We have taken care of that by pressing the button on the bowl, and you’ll know if the dog has been fed because the bowl lights up red. If the light is green, you can go ahead and feed them.”
Keeping tabs on pet health
By closely monitoring a pet’s eating and drinking habits, Wade said the ProBowl can serve as an “early warning system” to pet parents when something may be physically wrong with their pets.
She said that Obe provides health-related suggestions but not solutions, so pet owners still need to bring their cat or dog to a veterinarian. Relevant health information can also be shared with the vet at any time via the app.
“The ProBowl is the central device and point of interaction for a pet owner and their pets,” she said, adding that IoT is a fundamental aspect of the company. “We capture a ton of data about their behavior, schedules, preferences, when they are feeding their dog and what nutrients they may be lacking, and we’re able to make recommendations based on that data.”
Animals and user experience
Wade, along with Obe co-founder and head of product Jean Kao, have used their backgrounds in consumer product technology experience while working with consultants from the customer products industry to conduct concept testing to determine what pet owners want. Instead of going into the “super competitive” dog food industry, Wade said they learned that “people wanted a neutral and proactive advisor about their dog and cat’s nutrition, and the ability to take care of the day-to-day logistics.”
Obe regularly surveys its customer base to nd out what their wants and needs are, Wade said.
“Something that we are excited about is that the millennial generation is the fastest-growing pet-owning generation,” she said, adding that millennials are tech-savvy so Obe’s focus has been on making the user experience as smooth as possible.
Based on their data, the company’s target market is millennial “pet parents,” Wade said, and over-40 empty nesters. According to Wade, there are 150 million dogs and cats in the U.S., which is nearly double the number of kids nationwide, so there are ample opportunities for growth moving forward.
The ProBowl, which was put through user experience testing and went through four design iterations, costs $129 and $99 for the dog and cat versions, respectively. And despite being equipped with IoT functionalities, both the cat and dog food bowls are dishwasher and microwave safe.
During the design phase, Wade said she discovered something interesting about felines.
“Cats don’t like their whiskers to be touched while they are eating or drinking, so we had to design a specific bowl that was very shallow so their whiskers and the arch wouldn’t irritate them doing either,” she said.
The future of the Internet of Pets (IoP)?
The next logical step for Obe, Wade said, is to team up with another company to tie in a pet activity tracker to the IoT feeding mix.
“People overfeed their dogs and they tend to have the same level of activity so that’s why we focus on food and nutrition,” she said. “The advantage of the Internet of Things is taking things off of people’s busy schedules so they don’t forget about feeding their pets. The auto replenishment part is a big piece of IoT.”
Could walking your pet via app be far down the road or block, as it were? Welcome to the age of the connected pet.
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